• Leanne Brownoff

5 critical points my dogs taught me about motivation in business


Have you ever sent your staff to a training session, only to have short-term, if any results at all?

Or found yourself setting goals and KPIs for your teams, while wondering if they will achieve them this time?

It has been said that you cannot motivate another person. But rather, personal motivation is created internally. This concept was tested on restaurant employees and published in a recent Journal of Foodservice Business Research (Kimberly J. Harris, Robin B. DiPietro, Nathaniel D. Line &Kevin S. Murphy).

The study investigated whether the restaurant employee’s internal belief system impacted their motivation to comply with food safety guidelines as presented in training sessions. The results were affirmative. In spite of the business owners’ setting expectations and employing professional third party training vendors, employees were not always motivated to practice the safe food handling procedures if the concepts did not fit with their internal belief system. In a nutshell, they didn’t believe it was necessary to conform to the practices.

They were not motivated to change their belief which resulted in not complying consistently.


Although we may find this alarming, we shouldn’t be surprised that not all training results in compliance. There are two discussion points that come from the above study.


Firstly, individual personal beliefs must be taken into consideration as a starting point for new training concepts. This is true for every industry. If these deeply rooted beliefs are contradictory to a business’ expectations, it would be advantageous for management to first understand why the belief exists and then provide compelling reasons to change one's thought. Once you have changed one’s thought you can change one’s behaviour.

If you fail to do this, you will likely experience inconsistent results from training.

Secondly, if the new training is not consistently adopted you run the risk of having your organizational culture defined for you, not by you. Just as it is difficult to change one's beliefs, it is far more difficult to change group norms. Some individual employees possess the ability to influence their coworkers, this is referred to as the Herd Mentality, where people are influenced by their peers to accept beliefs and justify their actions.


Which brings us back to the questions….

Does this mean that you can’t motivate your employees? Is training a waste of time and money? Are we setting KPIs that cannot be achieved?

The answer lies in the hidden concept of what motivates your employees. If you understand that treasure of information, you can successfully and consistently introduce new concepts and processes that will result in achieving corporate goals with reasonable KPIs.

So how do owners and managers set the stage for understanding what motivates their employees?

I thought about this question while I was in the midst of training my two collies, Bailey and Merlin. Although I would never presume that the complexity of the human mind and social interaction in a business setting are similar to those of a canine’s existence, there are some striking resemblances that are worth pointing out.


The following five points highlight the critical considerations that impact the ability to impart significant change that can influence motivation.


1) Trust (safe environment)

If I am requesting my dog to engage in a new activity I anticipate hesitation at first, particularly if she is unsure of the result. Fear becomes the motivator and it will continue to guide her until I can show that I am to be trusted. I understand the two main motivators that can override her hesitation, food and the desire to please me. If I set up incremental training and provide her with treats and praise she learns to trust the process and learns a new behaviour in the process. If we consider the business environment that our teams work in we must look at how safe they feel; physically, psychologically and emotionally. It is critical that training is provided in incremental phases so that fear of failing is replaced with the desire to learn. As owners and managers it is on us to set the tone and ensure all staff feel safe to work and learn.


2) Clear and consistent communication

“The single biggest problem in communication

is the illusion that it has taken place”

George Bernard Shaw


When I give a command to my dog and I do not get the result I expected the chances are it was the way I communicated. Mixed messages often end up with a cocked head and the wrong action performed. What I say, how I say it and the environment I say it in can impact the resulting actions. When I remember what motivates my dog, food and the desire to please me, I can be sure that it was my delivery that was not consistent. Communication in the business setting is equally sensitive. What we say, how we say it and the environment we say it in can impact the result. If you didn’t get the result you wanted, check your communication effectiveness.


3) Deliver what you promise

Once I understand what motivates my dogs, I need to deliver the expected reward, either a treat or a boisterous neck roughing accompanied with “at a boy!” In business, employees have the expectations that they too will receive what is expected. For instance, if an incentive program is promised, employees expect the reward. Unfortunately this is an area that businesses sometimes miss their mark. Usually because the program wasn’t thought through or expectations changed midway. If management does not follow through with what is promised, there will be reduced motivation by the employees to continue performance in the future.


4) Recognition (action happens in anticipation- true proactivity)

I know I have made the ultimate motivational connection with my dogs when their actions happen automatically and without the constant need for a food treat. They can almost anticipate what is needed and take their queue from various sources. These moments are still recognized with praise, but it is different now, they truly choose to do this. In business we see this when employees act autonomously to achieve outstanding performance. There are many ways to reward such achievements and although money is one, there are others. It is important to go back to what motivates your employees.

Perhaps it is a public moment, perhaps it is time off, or perhaps it is a promotion. In any event, you know you have understood what motivates your employee when they have reached that level of performance.



5) Consistency breeds consistency- the reciprocal is true as well

One thing that my dogs remind me of regularly is that they will perform consistently when I perform consistently. They know when they do something worthy of praise and they know that when they get out of hand it will trigger a response from me that will create calm. This consistent action continues to support their internal motivation because it is based on communication, understanding, anticipation and gratification. These points are true in a business setting as well.



Call to ACTION:

· Motivation can be influenced but you need to understand what motivates your employee first.

· Provide a setting that is safe to explore new concepts.

· Ensure communication is clear where expectations are well explained with rationales that will satisfy the motivational requirements to support the new concept.

· Provide rewards consistently and based on the motivational needs of your employees.

· Be open for feedback to adjust your process


At the end of the day you are all on the same team.


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