Last Updated Oct 24, 2011 6:08 PM EDT
If you'll forgive the crude analogy, in many ways, employees behave a lot like dogs. I know, I know, it sounds horrible to say that. Just keep in mind that bosses and managers are employees too. Even CEOs have to answer to the board of directors, shareholders, and customers.
So at least I'm not picking on anyone in particular when I say we can all learn a lot about management and organizational behavior from our canine friends.
Now, I wouldn't call myself an expert on dogs, but my wife's in the veterinary profession and I've had the pleasure of knowing some brilliant animal trainers, not to mention participating in dog training programs with our own furry friends.
Most importantly, I'm an observer of animal behavior, and if you pay attention, you'll find that the canine-human relationship provides great insight into organizational behavior and a surprisingly effective blueprint for a productive workplace:
A Dog's Guide to a Happy Workplace
It's almost never the dog's fault. As quality training taught us in the 80s, nearly all employee problems are actually management problems. Organizational behavior and corporate culture are top-down driven. Organizational dysfunction is always a reflection of management dysfunction.
Train your owner. Ever see a dog trainer meet with an unruly dog for the first time and immediately take control? Why can't you do that? Because, there are far fewer well-trained owners than there are dogs that can manipulate their owners to get what they want. It's the same thing in management: too many tails wagging the dog.
We need purpose to be happy. Many, if not most, dog breeds are working dogs, meaning they're not happy unless they have a job to do and are assisting us in some way. The dog-human bond started with food but eventually evolved into a more symbiotic working relationship. People also need purpose to be happy.
It helps if you're cute and well-groomed. Nobody likes a mangy, stinky dog. Cute, well-groomed dogs get adopted and fed. It's the same thing in the workplace. Actions may speak louder than words, but until they get to judge your behavior, which can take a while, people will inevitably trust their initial impressions. Like it or not, how you look and what you wear makes a big difference at work.
Breeding is a big factor. Not a perfect analogy, I know, but whether you realize it or not, things you learn early in life have a tremendous impact on your career and are fundamental to your success in business. Work ethic and how you respond to authority figures are just two examples.
Wag your tail when you need or want something. If you think dogs wag their tails when they're happy, you're not alone. Actually, dogs wag their tails when they want something; it's their way of communicating a need and manipulating you into doing it. That sort of openness goes a long way in the workplace. If you communicate your professional needs and goals with your management, you stand a better chance of actually achieving them.
Keep it positive. Dogs are optimists. Every day they wake up and get fed is a happy day. If only people were like that. Nobody likes to hear this, but if your job sucks, there's a better than average chance that it's you. Those who do all the whining and complaining are the ones who give the rest of us so much to complain about. Seriously.
Obey your master and you'll get fed. I don't like how that sounds any more than you do. That's because nobody likes to be controlled and everyone likes to know they have choices. Well, the good news is that you do have choices in where you work and what you do for a living, but you'll be far better off doing a good job while your there. If you don't like how things are done, go your own way. That's how entrepreneurs are born.
If you chase your tail, people will laugh at you. Most people spend their lives chasing their tails. It's true. They don't set reasonably attainable goals or invest time in planning how to achieve them. As a result, they fail in execution. Look, it's a simple process that every organization needs to be successful: set goals, plan, execute. Actually, the problem with this metaphor is that, with people, it isn't funny to watch. It's sad.
If you bite, you're in for a tough time. Yes, I know that a lot of bosses are bullies and executives are just as likely to act out like children as employees are. But if you think that's an easy way to live and work, you're wrong. It's stressful, painful, and will cost you a fortune in shrink bills. And, in all likelihood, it won't end well for you. Try to keep your emotional baggage out of the workplace.
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Image The U.S. Army and Beverly & Pack via Flickr