William A. “Bill” Wynne, who along with his Yorkshire terrier Smoky serve as the subjects of this month’s Uniquely Cleveland, tells the story of how his highly trainable pet just wouldn’t cooperate and perform a trick to spell her name. This was just after Smoky saved the day by crawling through a culvert pulling telephone wires to get an airfield up and running.
Wynne, who was serving in World War II at the time, fashioned 14-inch letters out of cardboard that spelled her name. He wanted to impress the letter shapes on her mind so he carried her over to the letter S, held her head and traced the letter shape with her face over and over while saying “S.” Then, he repeated the steps with the other letters.
After two months of training, Smoky just didn’t get it. Wynne gave up — temporarily.
While stationed in Korea a short time later, Wynne tried the trick again. This time, Smoky performed it perfectly, sitting in front of each letter as Wynne ordered, “Next.”
“The reason for her reluctance dawned on me now,” Wynne says in his book, “Yorkie Doodle Dandy.” “I had been force-training her, and she hated it. Her revolt was her way of telling me, ‘When I am ready, master. Only when I’m ready.’
“Master? She had known all along what I was trying to teach her, but she had to remind me to keep my place.”
Have you ever had a situation that despite your high hopes and efforts to train employees on a new process, it just didn’t work? In many cases, the unfavorable results can be traced to a lack of engagement. A company initiative that tries to impose engagement on employees likely will fail if it’s mandatory. It takes away a degree of owning the new process.
By allowing employee to have input on a better strategy, they’ll be more committed to seeing it through since they helped create it. If you show your workers you respect their expertise and how they have the customer’s interests at heart, they’ll return that respect to the company, which will deepen their engagement.
Wynne and Smoky went on to be popular on stage and television. The pair worked together well — ever since she learned to spell.
Dennis Seeds is editor-at-large of Smart Business Magazine.