7 Change Management Lessons I Learned from the Dog Whisperer

Cesar_Millan-300x234Although I’ve never had a dog growing up and do not own a dog now, I’ve become a big fan of Cesar Millan, aka The Dog Whisperer. I found The Very Best of The Dog Whisperer randomly on Netflix streaming, checked out an episode, and instantly got hooked.

Cesar says that he “rehabilitates dogs and trains humans”. Time and again I saw the dog owners (humans) get the “AHA” insight that they were the main cause of their problem dogs behavior, and that in order for their dogs to change what they considered to be problem behavior, they had to change. The upside for those willing to try on new behaviors was frequently a new found freedom which could carry to other areas of their lives.

Given the statistic that ~ 70% of Change Management initiatives fail, I have extrapolated 7 Change Management Lessons from The Dog Whisperer series that I believe can greatly increase your organizations success when applied to corporate Change Management initiatives:

  1. Become a balanced, involved leader – According to Cesar, humans are the only species that will follow an unstable leader. He recommends being calm and assertive as a key step to becoming a balanced, stable leader. In our organizations, our leaders need to see change efforts as strategic and give them their due attention throughout the change lifecycle. Too many initiatives fail when “change management” is delegated to lower level implementers and then checked off and forgotten.
  2. Be open, and come from a place of service – Cesar comes to his clients without pre-conceived notions and always starts with the question, “How can I help you guys?” In my experience, the most successful people in business are focused on how they can provide the most value to their clients and customers. How often do we come to our clients leading with our own agenda and needs?
  3. Be grounded in the fundamentals, but flexible in their application – Cesar has a philosophy and methodology, but is extremely flexible in applying it to get the best results. That gives him the opportunity to ask questions, observe the “energy” of the situation, and use his intuition and creativity to develop the best solutions.  We as change professionals need to be able to do the same.
  4. Tell the truth (with compassion and integrity) – On almost every occasion the client thinks that their dog is the problem, when in reality it is the “human”. Cesar has a way of communicating the reality of the problem in a way that his clients can “get it” without major defensiveness, and often with insight and transformation. That is a great skill to learn and master to be able to help our clients.
  5. Model quick wins – If talking is not doing the trick, Cesar will often take action and demonstrate new, positive behaviors away from the dog owners. I can’t tell you how many times amazed owners will ask, “what did you do to my dog”?,“did you give him tranquilizers?”, “that cannot be my dog”, or something similar. When we can demonstrate or model the benefits of the change, resistance drops dramatically. The key is to show that a better future state is possible, and can be done through simulations, prototypes, pilots, and/or capturing low hanging fruit.
  6. Be consistent, especially in the face of resistance – Dogs (or humans) will frequently “act-up” when their leaders ask for different behaviors from them. The key is to have a good strategy based on involved leadership, anticipate resistance based on emotional as well as logical factors, and be consistent in applying the proposed solution. Anticipate the resistance, and do not give up  when it comes.
  7. Reinforce the new behaviors – Cesar frequently recaps the progress of his “interventions”, and those that seem to be the most successful are where the owner / leaders were willing to practice and do the needed work to reinforce the new behaviors. Quick wins are nice, but for changes in your organization to you need to factor in leadership follow-through beyond the “go-live” date.

While these 7 steps alone will not guarantee a successful change initiative, if what you are currently doing is not getting you the desired results, give them a try.  You just might be able to teach some old dogs new tricks!

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