3 Process Change Lessons from Dogs

Jeff Cole

Are you a pet lover? I’m more of a dog guy and have enjoyed their friendship my whole life. You already know you can teach dogs all kinds of tricks. Did you know, however, they have something to teach us when it comes to process change?

We have two dogs. Leo is a pure-bred toy poodle my wife found at a specialty breeder. Logan is a Maltese-mix rescue dog. He was scared and near death when found running wild in the woods, but after a while with us he is a healthy street-wise dog who enjoys his life.
Like many dogs, they are knuckleheads some times and geniuses at others. Their personalities couldn’t be more different, and that high contrast helps when looking at their behavior.
Opportunity or Threat?
Leo perceives our neighbor as a giant walking dispenser of great belly-rubs. Logan’s dog-radar tells him to view the fellow as a potential threat. Leo’s favorite place to visit (oddly) is the vet. Logan will give you a sideways "what’s going on here" glance just at the mention of the place.
Lesson learned: The process change you’re about to roll out in your office will likely solicit different responses from the audience. What one person sees as a welcome improvement can be perceived by the guy sitting next to him as a four-alarm danger signal.
So what? Knowing this in advance lets us anticipate different reactions and have approaches ready to help reduce your target audiences’ stress as we escort them to the future state.
Some days you just have to hide under the couch
Our dogs start their days with playtime, a walk outside and breakfast. Bellies full, they typically find a nice spot in the sun and relax. Logan sometimes chooses to spend his mornings under the couch. It’s a dark, safe cave for him. Nothing we can discern is any different from any other morning, but he reacts differently.
Lesson learned: In an earlier column, we discussed the concept of "change saturation" - the notion that people have different capacities for handling change. Things going on in their lives outside the office and at the office can accumulate to the point that they can’t take on any more change (like a sponge that’s totally saturated with change). Then the change you just announced was the straw to break the camel’s back – and you get an unexpected reaction from them!
So what? You may look at someone’s work load and determine they have plenty of bandwidth to take on a process change. However, you have little insight into how big or how full their change sponge is. Our earlier column indicates you can best manage this through altering the timing, location, and content of your changes.
Go ahead and pet me – if you dare!
Leo greets everyone with a wagging tail and loves nothing more than to be petted by a new friend. Logan was afraid of everyone when he first came to live with us. After he learned nobody was going to hurt him, he came to enjoy being petted by those of us "in his pack". His life in the woods has never left his mind though… Today, he’ll sometimes invite a new person to pet him and then remember this person is a stranger, get spooked and bark or nip.
Lesson learned: Not everyone will like the process change you are selling. Some will resist it. The best you can hope for is that those people bark at you at the start – at least you know who they are and can manage the situation. The most dangerous character you can meet is the one who smiles, shakes your hand, thanks you for the great presentation, and then goes back to his office and proceeds to do things the old way. We used to call this a "pocket veto". Once resistance that has gone underground, it’s hard to manage.
So what? While this is counter-intuitive, try to make it safe to be vocal in resistance to a change. Once you can see the resistance hot-spots in your organization, it’s easier to manage.
There you have it – three lessons from man’s best friend. Good luck with your next change – if you need me, I’ll be under the couch…