Friday, February 01, 2008

Animals teach workplace ethics

(An interesting article from Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle on training)

When was the last time you learnt management lessons from a dog or a horse? Two organisa­tions, Canines Can Care and Japalouppe Equestrian Centre teamed up to conduct an off-site training programme for the employees of Blue Lotus Communication recent­ly. Here's why it worked:
Communicate silentlyGetting a horse to jump, using only verbal commands or getting a dog to put on a light switch within a span of 10 min­utes requires high levels of communication skills. Rohan More, Japalouppe Equestrian Centre, Pune, says, "Both hors­es and dogs are similar to humans because they move around in groups and have a complex hierarchical social structure. Since they don't have our level of verbal communica­tion, they mostly communicate through non-verbal cues. -It's easy to draw a parallel on how we do this as humans. Many of the ways we express ourselves are genetically hardwired into us like clenching our teeth in anger or avoiding eye contact when intimidated by authority, just like other animals." At the camp, participants were taught how animals communicate effortlessly without saying a word and how to use those skills in one's day-to-day life.
Behaviour shaping
Junaid Merchant of Canines Can Care uses Thorndyke's Law of Effect as a basis for training dogs and says it can help humans too. "What this law says is that any action that is rewarded is going to be repeated suc­cessfully and any action with a nega­tive association will not be. So you should reward every little step in the right direction. For example, If besides your annual bonus, your boss rewards a small achievement, even non-monetarily like praising you in front of your colleagues, it motivates you."
More gives an example, "We played a game in which we paired the employees. One sat on a horse while the other stood blindfolded next to him, holding the reins. Then they given checkpoints through which they had to pass. The person on the horse had vision but no control while the one on the ground had control but no vision. They had to communicate with each other to accomplish the task. Once the maze was completed they reversed roles." At the end of the task the teams reviewed their communication styles and also understood how to look at a situation from another person's perspective.
Prey vs predator
The dog is a predator while the horse is a prey, and they both offer unique insights into the decision making process. More elaborates, "A predator fixes on what he or she wants and knocks out distractions whereas a prey takes in the whole picture and looks for discrepancies."
He adds, "A person should have the traits of both sets of animals, as per the situation required."
Employee feedback
Blue Lotus CEO N. Chandramouli says, "We usually put all dogs in one bracket but training them to accomplish tasks made us realise that every dog is different and so we have to adapt how we communicate with them. It's important to remember this with people." Tapash Pal, training manager, Blue Lotus, felt this was a nice change from the usual adven­ture sport camps, "For me the biggest lesson was the impor­tance of timely rewards. They make the work-environment more positive."It is easy to see why their methods are popular. Chandramouli reasons, "Since we learnt through interactions with other living beings, the lessons are easier to apply in the workplace." . _
Dealing with stress
More explains, "We touched on the concept of self-acceler­ating negative and positive cycles. Like when asked to take a riding lesson for the first time, some people were naturally nervous. Animals are very sensitive to cortisone and adrenaline levels in another liv­ing being's bloodstream. This could make you panic further. However, if you take a moment to breathe deeply and calm down, the animal gradually becomes at ease. Similarly when fated with a crisis at work, the team derives focus from the leader, so he/she must remain calm."