Establishing rules works in tandem with freedom of choice
We all need rules. This doesn’t hinder our ability to be creative or have decision-making abilities. I think these are often confused. In the last post, I described how Suzanne Clothiercreates interactions between a dog and a human where dogs have a level of decision-making. When a dog can figure out a situation on their own, they are much more likely to comply with what you want, versus being forced into some behavior.
I tried an experiment this weekend. Many Sunday mornings, we drive to a different location for a walk in the woods in search of mushrooms. Sometimes we drive ten minutes, sometimes an hour. Grace whines a good portion of the drive, perhaps from excitement, or maybe nervousness, I’m not sure. We’ve tried a lot of things to get her to be calm and quiet in the car, without much success. I thought about Suzanne’s approach and wondered how I could get Grace to make this decision on her own.
My idea was to give her a nice treat (small cubes of deli turkey meat) when she sat quietly in her bed. The only time she’d get the treat is when she made the decision to go in her bed on her own. No tempting, no luring, no asking from me. When and if she went to her bed on her own accord, then she’d get a nice treat. It would be my way of saying, “Thank you, good job!”
This past Sunday, she knew I had the turkey and she’d come sit in my lap, she’d paw at my hand and arm, she’d whine. I said nothing to her at all. As soon as she made her way to the back seat and landed in the bed, she got a treat. If she stayed there at a stoplight or a turn (when she normally would be up and looking, whining louder and louder), I’d give her a treat. It really worked!
After the second time, I could see that she was already making the connection and she willingly rested in her bed for much of the trip. At the very end of the drive as we pulled into the parking area, she lost her composure and reverted to her old ways, but in a 45-minute timeframe, our ride was dramatically different from past ones.
There were rules in this “game.” And after a short while, I could see her become focused on the activity, and taking initiative on her own part to play by these rules. This puzzle became an interesting challenge for her, as opposed to her being bored or nervous as she has been during previous rides.
In a recent conversation I had with a manager about an employee who was struggling in their work, we talked about ensuring that the employee had ownership for the solutions to improving. We need to engage individuals in the problem-solving, but we first must establish the rules that exist. For example, what is the timeframe for improvement? What is expected from the employee? What will happen if the results aren’t good? Both the manager and the employee should agree on the outcomes, including a determination of the quality of the work needed (the manager makes the final decision if there is a difference of opinion); the decisions about how to accomplish it should be driven by the employee.
Remember to be patient—don’t lure with treats too soon—allow the person to make their own choices and perhaps make a mistake or two as they figure out the best methods for success. Before I gave Grace the permission to make her own decisions about riding in the car, the rules were unclear and confusing to her. She could sit in my lap; she could sit in her bed, she could sit quietly or whine and aside from the occasional “shhhhhhhhh” or “noooooooo”, there was virtually no difference in the environment from her perspective.
Are you sending mixed signals to your employees by saying little or nothing when things go wrong? Employees need to know what the boundaries are for performance. What am I working to accomplish? What is my goal? Can I miss by a little? Or by a lot? What will happen if I don’t do what I say I was going to do? The manager needs to be clear on the desired goal, too. In absence of this, how can anyone achieve it?
Also be sure you know how much flexibility you can afford when things don’t go the way you hoped. What will happen if the goals are missed? Sometimes it might be ok, yet at other times it could be devastating to the organization. Be sure you communicate those parameters to everyone involved. Give others the freedom to make decisions but ensure that you both understand the rules first.