You Can’t Turn Cats Into Dogs

Five years ago, I would have introduced myself as an owner of a printing company. Today, that description no longer suffices. We have spent the last five years re-defining Multi-Craft. Today, our focus is on executing our client’s marketing strategy through the marketing channels of print (offset and digital one-to-one), ecampaigns, website development, emarketing portals, mailing, fulfillment and data analytics. We no longer limit ourselves to one channel. We are a company of change and a company of growth.

This re-defining of our company also meant that our staff also needed to be re-defined. In some cases, we had to hire experts to get the knowledge we needed to support a channel, such as mailing and emarketing portals. In other cases, education enabled current employees to grow into new areas of expertise. But, there is a third area and it is where we have taken our existing “cats” and tried to change them into “dogs”. These “cats” are those staff members who feel no need nor have a desire to grow and change. As a family-owned business we often are emotionally tied to our current staff members and the last thing we want to do is to terminate a loyal employee. Instead, we keep trying to force feed our “cats” the dog food they need to become the super-canine we need them to be. In some cases, this worked and in others it did not. While lamenting my headache to a friend, she stated that instead of trying to turn my “cats” into “dogs”, I just needed to hire some “dogs” and let the cats go. Good advice!

Then, someone gave me the book, “You Can’t Send a Duck to Eagle School” by Mac Anderson. The title sounded a lot like the “stop trying to turn your cats into dogs” scenario that I had been struggling with. So, I immediately began to read it. This book was not solely about the frustration of trying to convince people they needed to grow and change, but was more expansive.

The book stated that, “You can’t teach someone to smile, you can’t teach someone to want to serve, you can’t teach personality. What we can do, however, is hire people who have those qualities and we can then teach them about our products and teach them our culture”. I’d like to add that you can’t teach someone to want to learn, but instead should look to hire people who have a commitment to lifelong learning.

I continued reading this book and there were several things that stood out. Jack Welch said, “A leader’s job is to look into the future and see the organization, not as it is, but as it should be.” Who wouldn’t agree with that? After all isn’t that what a leader is – someone who is a visionary?

But, I think it goes beyond even that. It’s not just about envisioning the future, it’s learning to communicate that future to everyone else. Communicating to potential employees the importance of your company culture, mission, values and commitment to lifelong learning. Communicating to your team so they are informed about what’s happening right now, what’s coming down the road, what their role is and how they are doing.

One of the lessons I have learned is that if we want to continuously improve our organization, we must measure everything that is important. After all, how will we know if we’ve improved if we don’t know where we started and where we are today? The same is true for those you work with. Do they know what is expected of them? Do they know if they are meeting those expectations? If not, do you help them develop a plan to improve? Do you give them opportunities to learn and take on new challenges?

It is the responsibility of a leader to hire those who have the attributes and qualities  needed for the job, define their responsibilities,  hold them accountable for the results, communicate with them and help them to be the best they can be. And, then it’s making sure that you recognize their efforts and appreciate their contributions. Michael Le Boeuf stated, “The greatest management principle in the world is ‘The things that get rewarded and appreciated get done'”. When everyone is working together to accomplish the mission, then everyone wins!

So, I’m going to be a better leader and will stop trying to turn my “cats” into “dogs”. Instead, I intend to actively look for “dogs” who want to be part of an organization dedicated to meaningful growth, lifelong learning and have the ability to embrace change and see the opportunities it can bring.

About Debbie Simpson

President of Multi-Craft in Newport, Kentucky.
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