This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.
If you find yourself wondering whether your corporate culture is going to the dogs, the solution may be quite simple: bring in dogs. Studies conducted by the British-based Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition point to the benefits of canines in the workplace: employees who bring a dog to work show decline in stress over the course of the day, while stress increases in those who leave their dogs at home.
In a recent survey of 50 pet-friendly businesses in the United States, 73 per cent of employees said that pets created a more productive work environment and that their personal skills improved. Pet-friendly workplaces enjoy higher levels of job satisfaction, including subscales of communication, benefits, rewards, promotion, operating procedures and pay.
At Mars Canada, it is a core belief that pets are good for people. When I first set foot in our company's offices a decade ago, one of the things that most struck me was Mars' pet-friendly policy. Perhaps even more surprising is that even seeing wagging tails at work day in and day out, the novelty hasn't worn off. And over time I recognized that our four-legged friends–humble, happy and obedient – taught me a lot on how to lead.
Treat people fairly: Dogs are uncompromisingly loyal and forgiving. It doesn't matter if you work in an entry-level role or rule the C-suite, if you made a game-changing presentation or you blew it. A dog's tail is always wagging. In a day and age where many of us spend more of our waking hours at work than at home, relationships must be grounded in understanding. Set high expectations, but be quick to forgive and err on the side of cutting people slack.
Have fun: One of the defining characteristics of dog is the appetite for fun. If you would like to make your workplace more exciting, look no further than the three rules of a dog park: have fun, don't bite others and stay in the fence. As a leader, you have the responsibility to establish guidelines that are appropriate to your industry. But once the guidelines set, release your employees to run free, pursuing opportunities to be creative and projects aligned with their interests.
Be tenacious: The idiom "like a dog on a bone" exists for a reason. When a dog wants something, he won't give up. Dogs are fanatical in their tenacity, figuring out what their goals are and going after them. The same kind of drive to achieve a corporate objective must be demonstrated at the highest levels of the organization. Dogs also react: if a bone–an opportunity – falls from the sky, a dog is quick to pounce. And when the opportunity is hidden, the dog is keen to sniff it out.
Communicate expectations clearly: Dogs typically do not send mixed messages. When a dog paws at the front door, he is looking to go for a walk. When he sticks his entire head and neck into a bag of food, chances are he is hungry. The advantage of a dog's directness is that it leaves no room for confusion. Leaders should operate in the same way–making the effort to clearly communicate expectations and being equally clear when expectations are not met.
Recognize Golden Retrievers: Golden Retrievers are one of a number of breeds who display the characteristics of emotional intelligence, including empathy, adaptability and good-naturedness. The paradox of emotional intelligence in the workplace is that its benefits are easily recognized but difficult to quantity. It can be helpful, especially in fields where soft skills are not traditionally emphasized, to assess for emotional intelligence in the hiring process and to recognize soft skills as part of performance reviews. Golden Retrievers, especially service dogs, also display a high degree of responsibility and take their jobs seriously. Your organization should hold itself to the same standard of responsibility and accountability – starting with you.
Find shared values: For many people, a pet is an important part of the family, not something that can or should be left home for the day. For others, the pet is the family. Mars Canada has a turnover rate that is well below the industry average, and we believe that is in large part because we appreciate the "pet children" of our employees as much as they do. If the opportunity to align a core corporate policy with something that is truly important to your employees presents itself, seize it. If it does not, create it.
If you are interested in learning from a dog or feel your office could benefit from the calming influence of a canine, a decline in absenteeism or a lower turnover rate consider a pet-friendly policy. While certain things must be considered in advance – allergies and perhaps some skepticism, for example – the rewards are worth it.
Chris Hamilton is president of Mars Canada including Mars Petcare, Canada's largest manufacturer of pet food.