There are few things more frustrating to my wife Lynn and I than not being able to secure a rental or a hotel room because of our dogs. No, they are not less than 15 pounds and yes, we have two. I guess this has some type of exponential effect on the destruction. Our biggest challenge however is that our dogs, Max and Dixie are Dobermans, those man-eating, neighborhood ravaging, killing machines of German decent. The funny thing is, what most of us Doberman owners know is that this stigma could not be further from the truth. Ask anyone who has spent time at our house and they would tell you how incredibly well behaved Max and Dixie are. Typically when guests are leaving the majority will threaten to take the dogs home with them. By comparison, at last check no one has ever threatened to take me home.
As always, and in the spirit of Paul Harvey, there is a “rest of the story”. Ever since we got our dogs, Lynn has been heavily invested in their training. She started day one with an amazing amount of commitment and rigor that has carried through to today. Core to Lynn’s philosophy is there are no bad dogs (less a few), only bad owners who simply did not have the time and/or inclination to work with their animals. And beyond that, priority number one for her training is you have to catch them in the act. Whether it’s praise for good behavior (Max and Dixie respond best to chicken flavored biscuits) or correcting bad behavior; Lynn feels strongly that it must be in the moment for it to be meaningful and memorable. And then it is lather- rinse-repeat, moment by moment, day after day.
So what’s the point? Many articles, blogs and books have been written about our need to provide more feedback (positive and developmental) to our workforce. There are few things more developmental than praise for a job well done, or a candid conversation when an associate is, in our terms, “off the reservation.” And much like our Dobes, impact is at a premium when the recognition or dialogue is personal, immediate and certain, when you catch them in the act. The outcome can be equally as powerful when we let one (or more) go by. In other words, when an action or behavior in need of some kind of attention is ignored.
Take for example one of our Senior Leaders who recently didn’t show up so well in a session with a few of our executives. To say that he put it right in the guardrail would be an understatement as this was not the first time this extraordinary young man just couldn’t seem to get it right with this group. And while one of the officers was a bit upset and ready to jump, there was some clarity provided through a simple question; “to what extent do you think this young man’s supervisor has had the necessary (and candid) conversation to raise his awareness about this behavior?” We landed on most likely not as that was not a strength of his boss. And not surprisingly, we found that he in fact was not provided the clarity in the moment and over time, and the behavior became a norm. As such, we would certainly be having a conversation with both him and his boss. The tone however would not be fierce, especially with him. It simply would not be fair. Our journey continues.
At Luck Companies “feedback rich” is one of our top cultural characteristics that we aspire to. Along with this, one of our four values is “leadership” with an associated behavior that reads, “initiates transparent and fierce conversations.” Our philosophy is “look up” when opportunities arise in our workforce as there is no doubt in our minds that the culture is a shadow of the leader. And much like Lynn, we don’t believe there are bad people, especially in the work place. What we subscribe to is actually quite the opposite in that we believe all human beings have extraordinary potential to do wonderful things, to make a difference. We are passionate about igniting the potential of our associates and committed to doing so through such things as catching them in the act.
To improve our odds of getting it right we consistently check in with our leaders around a few things such as:
- Are they providing crystal clear (and agreed upon) expectations up front?
- Do they look for opportunities to lead by spending the necessary time in the field with their associates to catch them in the act?
- Are they providing clear-coated (vs. candy-coated or fire-coated) feedback to enhance understanding and development?
- Are they careful to avoid the “one and done” or “set it and forget it” mindset? It’s about repetition (lather, rinse, repeat).
- Are they maintaining a healthy 3:1 ratio of recognition and praise to developmental feedback and fierce conversations?
Dixie and Max are 10 and 10 ½ and continue to get better with age. I guess you could call them life-long learners. This being said, Lynn’s work continues as she is inspired by the idea of being a good owner. Today the ratio of chicken biscuits to course corrections is much more than 3 to 1. But make no mistake about it, when it comes time to being fierce, Lynn rarely misses the opportunity. It’s about clarity, fairness and most of all, caring.