Lessons from my dog

As I watch my husband, a former police canine handler and trainer, work with our dogs, I am struck by the simplicity and obvious lessons to be learned. Every audience — whether they are customers, employees or dogs — is motivated by rewards. The key to affecting change is to make sure to reward the behavior you want.

My 8-year-old bloodhound/lab mix LOVES to go for a walk. From the moment I would lace up my shoes and put on a baseball cap, he started leaping and twirling in the air, knowing it was time to head outside. This was all very cute and adorable when he was a puppy. But now that he’s nearly 100 pounds, his excitement leaves me breathless and bruised just trying to attach his lead. The problem: My actions communicated to him that his circus-like behavior was what would lead to the walk (his reward).

After a ton of patience and retraining, I’ve worked to teach him that sitting calmly while I attach his lead, and walking forward on my command, is what will finally get him outside and en route to the park. He still gets his walk and I keep my legs bruise-free.

Retailers bank on this formula. Companies like Sephora, create rewards programs for consumers who reach certain spend levels and offer perks like free shipping, higher quality samples and first-looks at new products.

An August 2014 article in Harvard Business Review points out that “the best way to get the behaviors you want is to provide rewards for doing them… The flip side is that you have to make sure you’re not inadvertently providing rewards for behaviors you’re trying to discourage.”

The formula applies to creating internal changes, too. Many years ago, one of my clients recognized its marketing campaigns were constantly running over budget. Managers were praised, even promoted, for their creative campaigns, despite blowing their agency budgets. While the work was impressive, the budgets suffered tremendously, often resulting in cuts and cancellations of campaigns at the end of the year.

To encourage a behavioral change, we worked with the client to launch an internal campaign to educate brand managers about the positive effects of setting expectations and budgets upfront. The company also partnered with agencies that had a strong track record of remaining accountable to budgets and managing requests that were out of scope. Finally, the company began recognizing the brand managers not just for the creativity of the campaign, but also for their fiscal responsibility. Once the client started rewarding the right behavior, it saw improvements in the work, in their managers’ commitment to the business and ultimately to the bottom line.

What rewards have influenced you to change a behavior? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter via @IntrinzicSays.