Positive Reinforcement: Keeping your Team Motivated through Incentives

sit treat

I am a reward-based dog trainer which means I teach a dog what to do and make that behaviour rewarding, so that they enjoy performing it and want to do it more. It’s a simple concept really: perform a certain action, receive something good, repeat behaviour. An educated dog trainer always focuses on this concept first. We may ignore an unwanted behaviour, or we may punish (provide a negative consequence, never through physical force or fear/intimidation), but should always be focused on teaching the dog what is expected of them, and rewarding them for it. This exact concept applies to our team. If a team member is not performing, I first need to ensure that I have taught them what is expected of them. If it is a performance issue, let’s first look at how we are rewarding our team, and we will discuss how to handle underperformers in another post.

1. Have a Structured Incentive Program
If you supervise a team, you must have a structured incentive program in place. We work with dogs, so we give out bones whenever a team member goes above and beyond. Our management team has an outline of example tasks and/or initiatives a team member may complete, with a number of bones given for each. This ensures it is fair for all and that one manager is not over-compensating or another manager is not giving out enough.

We track the number of bones given for each team member, and for what task. We keep these posted in an employee area so everyone can see how their team is doing. At the end of the month, one team member for our entire team is awarded ‘The Biggest Boner’ award (a bit of a tongue-in-cheek name, but the team love it). They trade in their bones for a whatever items they would like. We have a list of rewards and the bones required, which range from gift certificates, paid time off, store products or they can put into a pool for large team awards.

2. The Timing of the Reward
As a dog trainer, you learn that timing is an integral part of the reward system. This also applies to your team. As soon as you witness a team member do something that you want to see more of, you must reward it immediately. A supervisor would acknowledge what they are recognizing and communicate the number of bones received immediately. If it is something they do not see in action, they reward as soon as they learn about it. As part of this, we are also implementing a process where we let the team know who the lead earner of bones is per week. This provides some more immediate feedback, and acknowledges a team member who may have had an outstanding week. We also encourage team members to recommend each other for bones, which has created more collaboration and participation in the program.

3. Rewarding Excellence
As part of our strategic planning for 2014, one of our themes was Excellence. This meant that we focused on providing excellence for the entire customer experience. Out of this, we also learned that we needed to recognize excellence in our team members. Our incentive programs allows us to constantly be acknowledging and rewarding great behaviour, but we wanted to do more for exceptional performance.

We keep jackpot awards for these moments. We have a variety of items on hand that are not part of the rewards and give these as additional bonuses for excellence. We also do shout-outs of excellence on our employee page to recognize the team member. We may also jackpot reward in other ways. For example, recently we were short staffed and two team members came to work and gave it their all and were able to leave early. They were thrilled with being able to leave early, but we also told them we were paying their time when they returned. It is a low cost way to show your team you truly value their commitment and hard work, and they were more deserving of this small token of appreciation.

If the whole team is working hard, we may just do a pizza lunch or bring in a small treat. I have learned that humans are just as motivated by food rewards as dogs are! Another time the team had been working hard while we were short staffed, I bought them all a gift certificate for a movie and dinner night out. Ensure you recognize every time they put in that extra effort to ensure your business runs well.

4. Do Not Over Reward
Do not reward every task and ensure you are rewarding when they show the initiative. We had a challenge where the manager had left a list of tasks and what bones would be earned for completion. This quickly devalued the bones and demotivated the team from putting in the extra effort when they could just complete tasks.

We also had another incident where a manager gave out 50 bones for a task that deserved some bones, but the 50 was far more than any we had ever gave out. This can be unfair to the other team, and you also need to ensure it does not show favouritism. It was an item we would see many more team members do, so should we be giving 50 bones out every time? This is what caused us to create the guideline for how many bones/tasks, which has alleviated this problem

6. Track Your Performance
And finally, a good incentive program measures the performance of yourself as a leader, or your managers. If the team is not getting much for rewards, it is a sign that they are not providing them the positive feedback that is a crucial part of your team and your business success. And too many rewards can demotivate the team as well. They just come to expect them. So track your managers delivery of incentives. I have two locations, so I compare and it gives me some excellent feedback on the overall performance at each one.

If you do not have something structured in place, make it your goal to roll it out for the next month. I consider this one of the most important parts of our company culture and team building, and it has brought everyone closer. Your customers and your business will thank you for it!

Questions? Email me at megan@dogmatraining.com!


Dog Years: My Story

first open

Like so many of us, I dreamed of owning a business at a young age. I wouldn’t say I was business savvy as a child, but I knew I was going to forge my own path. I was lucky to land a decent job while I was in high school. Actually, I shouldn’t say that as I hate it when people say I am lucky to be where I am. I was a good student and was recommended by the teacher when the employer called the school looking for a student for part-time data entry work. I worked for an amazing man who quickly become my business mentor. Ron always valued my opinion, coached me and kept me in the loop of business decisions despite my young age. He started my involvement in the IT world and guided my decision away from vet school. He saw something in me and I know it was hard when I left to go. It wasn’t until many years later when I opened dogma that I realized how much he truly taught me.

I took a program in ecommerce and started a career in software development. I did not enjoy it. It was challenging, but it was the same routine and underwhelming with no creativity. I started my first company, Webnology, and offered web development services for small businesses. I started with a partner and she left after our very first project when the client was late paying. She did not want to leave the security of a full time job. I was disappointed, but this ended up being the best thing for me. Suddenly I needed to do things on my own. I started attending business networking events and launched a successful business.

I always wanted to work with animals, but vet medicine was not for me. I decided to begin volunteering at our local humane society and my life path launched into working with dogs. What an amazing feeling when you recognize your true passion. I could not get enough learning, experience and work with dogs. I took any job with dogs I could find and volunteered as often as possible. I slowly began to transition from the high paying world of web design and took jobs making $7.50/hour, excited for the opportunity to work with dogs. I realized that life was way too short to work to live. I wanted to do what I loved and knew I could do it well. Everyone thought I was crazy, but I had a vision, wanted to get my experience to certify as a trainer, and I took every naysayer as motivation to prove I could reach my goals.

 second open

I incorporated dogma in 2006 and opened my first dog daycare and boarding facility in Calgary in 2008. I now have 2 locations, over 20 staff, see an average of 120 dogs/day between both facilities and run 30+ classes a week. We do private and group training, offer dog daycare, specialized puppy programs and a dog training apprenticeship program which has seen over 40 active graduates enter the dog training industry! We have set the standard in dog care and I am proud of what I have created. Like all of us entrepreneurs, it has been quite a journey; full of struggles, lessons, joys, despair, loneliness, strength, inspiration and wonders.

My goals?

To build a community of support. As an entrepreneur friends and family will never truly understand your struggles and accomplishments. If you just need affirmation, need help with a specific topic or want to know you are not alone, I want this blog to help. I believe we have specific challenges as female entrepreneurs, but also have specific traits that provide us with unique skillsets to enable tremendous success. We must learn to build each other up, learn and support each other and work together. Strength is in numbers. I want us to lead by example and encourage young females to live their dreams.

On a personal level I am fighting for the proper and humane treatment of animals, specifically dogs. I devote my time to educating dog owners, animal rescues, dog trainers and professionals who work with dogs. Some facilities are being run where dogs have died, or being hurt or traumatized. Training classes can be based entirely on fear and intimidation. So many animals live under extreme stress and fear. We can do more. We need to empathize better with the animals on our planet. This is one fight I will not stop.