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''Sit. Sit, Clark!''
No, I am not talking to an employee. And, I am definitely not telling another story from one of my coaching clients. We recently got our kids, all five of them, a puppy. A three-month-old chocolate labrador retriever, whom we named Clark — short for Clark Kent, after Superman.
The first few days with Clark in the house has left me perplexed. Which is better — a treat (reward) or the stick (punishment or fear)? In other words, what is the best way to train him to sit, stay, shake and even do ''you know what'' where he should instead of on the kitchen floor?
We all fell in love with Clark at first site, which wasn't too hard for the kids since ''a puppy'' was on every one of their Christmas lists. That is when we gave in and said ''Merry Christmas'' early. But at least he arrived in December, so it is somehow a Christmas present. Clark is an adorable addition to our house.
We know that if we don't shape his behaviour today, then his performance in the future will not earn him a bonus. If we turn this thought into a question, then it sounds very similar to some of my coaching conversations. How do I shape my team's performance so they can exceed expectations? For me, it is how can I shape our puppy's behaviour so he doesn't destroy our house when he grows up.
By no means am I calling employees puppy dogs. But, it has really made me wonder, ''What is the best way to shape behaviour — to train him? A treat or the stick?''
Maybe I am a becoming a softie, at least towards Clark. How am I supposed to use the ''stick'' with him for anything other than playing fetch. Even while chewing up everything in sight, he's too cute for the stick. Some days it seems he thinks, ''No, Clark!'' is a cue to run and play.
I even caught myself, saying, it's OK for him to collect everything in the house and put it in his bed — his toys, the kids' toys and even the rug from the kitchen that he dragged over and tried to hide away in his bed. All the while, I could picture the puppy growing up to become a disaster dog and imagine my future frustration. I was doing with Clark exactly what you may be doing at work — looking past what he is doing today knowing that it may create a problem tomorrow.
Deciding against the stick, maybe the treat is better?
Thinking to myself, this can't be too hard, over the weekend, I decided I would teach him to sit. I grabbed his new treat, took Clark outside and said, 'Sit! Sit Clark'. When he did, I gave him a reward — a doggie treat. We repeated this over and over, each time giving him a reward.
The next morning, he left a ''reward'' for us, a mess all over the floor. That showed what he thought of the small reward that we gave him. This left me even more perplexed, I didn't want to use the stick and he didn't respond well to the reward. Then I thought about ''average'' performance, isn't that what sitting is? It's what's expected of a dog.
Average performance shouldn't need an additional reward, it is expected. So, I concluded Clark should learn to sit because that is what he was to do — sit. No stick and no treat. Employees should be performing because it is expected, not because of the bonus. A bonus should be used to reward ''over and above'' performance.
The moral of the leadership story is expected performance doesn't need a reward or a stick. Lead your employees to perform because they are supposed to, not coerced to.
I'm a bit embarrassed to say that in the end, I called the proverbial ''training'' department and outsourced my ''performance'' problem for someone else to handle. He now has a personal instructor to teach him what I should be developing in him. This sounds all too familiar, doesn't it?
Find out the power of positives in a world of negatives
Source: Dr. Tommy Weir, Special to gulfnews.com
The writer is a leadership adviser and author of '10 Tips for Leading in the Middle East'