I have two miniature schnauzers named Casper and Boris. While I would never compare motivating a pooch to motivating a human, I have learned that there are a lot of similarities when it comes to giving feedback. Here are four things my pups taught me about giving feedback:
1. Consistency is key
With my canine buddies, I find that using the same word or phrase over and over increases the chances that they will respond. In some cases, they have even learned to spell (d-i-n-n-e-r).
In people management and motivation, the same things apply but on a much more complex level. The more consistent you are with your message, the more people know what to expect. Take organizational values as an example. If you have “innovation” as one of you core company values and you constantly reinforce it by calling out innovating things your team is doing, they will get the message that innovation is good.
The opposite is true as well. If you are not consistent in your message, you will confuse people. In the example above, if your value is “Innovation” but you are consistently shutting people down when they want to try something new, your message is quickly lost.
2. Reward good behavior
I always carry dog treats with me on our walks, so that when they respond to a command like “sit,” they get a reward. Over time, they have learned to sit when I ask.
Again, humans are way but more complex. Rewarding the behavior that you want to see in your employees will increase the chances that they'll repeat the behavior. The size of the reward can vary from a “great job” to monetary rewards. It depends on the value of the behavior you're trying to see.
Conversely, you have to be careful that you aren't rewarding behavior that you don't want to see. If an employee comes in late to work every day and you don't do or say anything about it, you are in effect rewarding them for bad behavior.
The other danger is rewarding too many things at once. Think about rewards as driving the main priorities of your organization at that point in time. If you are focusing on too many things at once, employees don't know the correct one to really focus on. That can get very discouraging.
3. Positive is better than negative
When I'm working with my pups, I always try to make sure the motivation is positive, not negative. If we're off leash at the park and I need them to come back to me, I use the “come” command. Even if they take their sweet time, stopping to visit every other dog on the way, they still get a “good dog” and a pat on the back. (OK and probably a treat). If I had yelled at them for taking their time to come over, what do you think the chances are of them rushing back the next time I call them?
With people, positive coaching is always more effective than calling out the negative. How many of us have worked with bosses or coaches who yelled at us when we made a mistake? Not a pleasant memory, right? That doesn't mean that all coaching is only about the things that go right. The key is a good balance: highlighting the positives of people's behavior and the opportunities.
4. Give feedback in the moment
Any dog trainer will tell you that dogs don't remember bad behavior after they've done something wrong. And as much as we wish they knew the difference between right and wrong, they don't. For the feedback to be effective, it needs to be addressed when the behavior is observed.
With people, the same holds true, although we have a slightly longer memory. If you see a negative action from an employee, it’s best to address it as close to the time it occurs as possible. However, there are some things to consider, such as not embarrassing someone by calling them out in front of their peers. It’s also important to make sure that the severity of the feedback matches the severity of the action.
I've also heard dog trainers say that there are no bad dogs, only dogs that have not been trained and motivated correctly. Being a great manager and motivator of people requires the same discipline and attention. Of course, humans are way more complex than dogs, but as employees they will give you much more if you master the art of giving effective feedback.