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Wednesday, July 3, 2019

4 ways your employees are like a new puppy

We are on day 5 of new puppy in the Hyman household. Dante is adjusting well, as are we (including big sister Loula … more or less). It’s been 7 years since we last raised a puppy. And the thing I forgot the most is just how many rules there are.

  1. No peeing in the house.
  2. No pooping in the house.
  3. Outside after every meal.
  4. Outside every hour or so.
  5. Outside after every nap.
  6. No chewing on shoes
  7. No chewing on socks.
  8. No chewing on clothes.
  9. No chewing on hair.
  10. No chewing on furniture.
  11. No chewing on Jon, Colleen, Norah, or Donovan.
  12. No chewing on big sister.
  13. No humping big sister.
  14. Eat 3 times a day.
  15. Stay hydrated, but not too hydrated (see rule no. 1 above).
  16. No jumping.
  17. Nap in crate.
  18. No whining or crying in crate.
  19. Eat your food, not Loula’s.
  20. And it goes on, and on …

Which got me thinking new employees have lots of rule to follow, too. I came up with 4 ways your employees are like a new puppy.

1. Clear communication of rules. Just like my list above, your workplace has a lot of rules. Most of them are in your employee handbook. Some may exist elsewhere. And some may be unwritten, ingrained in the culture of your business. From day one, your employees know none of these (although some should be common sense). You need to orient your employees to these rules from the moment they walk in your door. It’s not enough to give them a copy of your handbook to read and sign for. Spend some time talking to them about your expectations. Assign a mentor to work with, and teach, the employee. Offer refreshers on the important ones through periodic training. It’s fundamentally unfair to expect employees to follow rules, and hold them accountable, for rules they don’t know or understand.

2. Consistent enforcement of rules. It’s all well and good to communicate to Dante not to eat shoes. We redirect him with something puppy appropriate on which to chew. But, if we slack on enforcement, we are sending a mixed message. How is he supposed to learn what not to chew on, or to potty and poop outside, if we send inconsistent messages? The same holds true for your employees. They will not know what rules to follow and when if you are lax on enforcement. It also raises the possibility of disparate treatment and other discrimination if it appears that one group is treated more favorably than another. And, even if this different treatment is not unlawful, employees hate perceived unfairness.

3. Positive reinforcement is better than punishment. If Dante has an accident in the house, we don't yell or rub his face in it. We just (as) calmly (as possible) take him outside to model correct behavior and rule following. Similarly, if he chews on something he's not supposed to, we redirect his mouth to something puppy appropriate. The same holds true for your employees. Some violations are so egregious such that discipline or termination are the only answer (just as sometimes the best redirection for Dante is a timeout in his crate). But for less serious offenses or early performance issues? Use them as training exercises to model correct behavior with the goal of the employee learning and improving. 

4. Contemporaneous discipline when rules are broken. When Dante does something Loula doesn’t like, she lets him know immediately (usually with a large bark). Similarly, when he does something against our rules, we need to catch him in act to redirect him to appropriate behavior. If he pees in the family room, and we wait 5 minutes to take him outside, we’ve lost the teaching opportunity. The same holds true for your employees. Discipline must be contemporaneous. For starters, it offers the best opportunity to correct the misbehavior and redirect it to workplace appropriate behavior. Also, when you wait to counsel or discipline, it calls into question the severity of the misconduct. I do not like defending discrimination lawsuits in which the terminable offense occurred a month prior to the termination, and was completely unaddressed during that intervening month. It creates an inference either that your rule is not important, or that the employee’s violation either didn’t occur, was not serious enough to address, or did not motivate the adverse action. Any of these inferences are fatal to your defense of your claim.

* Let me add, for the record for all to see, supervisor Norah (our 13-year-old daughter) is doing an excellent job orienting Dante to all of our house rules. She desperately wanted a puppy, and has fully embraced her responsibilities, both during the day when Colleen and I are at work, and overnight (from which she has not shied away, even though it has severely cut into her summer sleep schedule). So, thank you, Norah. You are an excellent role model for puppy owners and employers everywhere.