Performance Management – A case study

Having recently acquired a Labrador retriever puppy, I am currently in the throes of house training.

Whilst standing oLily2utside  one rather wet and cold evening waiting for Lily to perform I started thinking about the performance management cycle that we use on some of our courses and how well, or not, I was applying the theory to the matter in hand.

Goal To achieve 100% of puppy puddles outside rather than in the house
Manager Owner
Subject Lily – 10 week old Labrador Retriever
Model used Performance Management CycleLily3

  • Define Performance
  • Set up for Success
  • Track Performance
  • Review Performance
  • Respond to Performance
Step       Action Taken       Considerations
Define Performance 

Clarity around what is required, both actions and behaviours

  • Placed outside on the grass
  • “Hurry up” continually repeated to encourage correct behaviour.
  • Did Lily understand the performance required?
  • What did “hurry up” mean in dog language?
  • Did the owner check understanding?
  • If Lily understood what “hurry up” meant, did she understand that the level of performance required was 100% of the time not simply when picked up and placed outside?
Set up for Success 

Provision of the necessary support and resources to create the confidence to succeed 

  • Placed outside on the grass
  • Accompanied until finished
  • Distractions removed including balls, sticks, plant pots, leaves etc.
  • Signal given to perform (repeatedly saying “hurry up”.)
  • Would this support be maintained in the rain?  In the dead of night?  In the winter?
  • Were there any distractions likely for the owner?
  • How embarrassed was the owner to continually repeat “Hurry up”?
  • Did this embarrassment manifest itself in inconsistent application?
Track Performance

Monitor progress against target

  • Puddles appearing in unauthorised places monitored
  • Puddles appearing in authorised places
  • How could owner monitor puddles when the ground was already wet?
  • Or when it was dark?
Review Performance

Compare performance against defined performance level

  • Compare no of puddles in unauthorised places against 0% goal
  • Compare no of puddles in authorised places against 100% goal
  • Is method of recording reliable?
  • Consider length of review period to ensure timely feedback
Respond to Performance

Communicate performance against defined performance level

  • Give lavish praise when puddles in authorised places
  • Swiftly clear up any non-performance without comment but place Lily immediately in correct place and reinforce with “hurry up”
  • Response needs to be as close to performance or non performance as possible to ensure that Lily associates the response to the performance
  • Non performance response needs to change as Lily matures and understands the requirements of the role.
Lessons Learnt
  • Being as specific as possible around the June 2015 1required level of performance is critical
  • Communication is two way, the onus is as much on the owner to check understanding as it is on Lily to listen and seek clarification
  • Don’t assume that just because you told them that will be enough.
  • Attitude is key to changing behaviour.  Lily really wanted to get it right.  She not only wanted to keep puddles away from where she slept and ate, but she desperately wanted to please us and get the praise that was lavished upon her when she was successful.
  • The more specific the feedback is the more likely you are to get a change in behaviour
  • You can teach the knowledge and skill to achieve a goal or complete a task, but without the right behaviours  or attitude it will not always achieve the desired result


I remain an optimist and believe that most dogs (and employees) want to do the right thing, in the right way.

Sometimes, however, the understanding of what the right thing is, or the right way to achieve it may differ between the parties

Being clear about what good looks like both in terms of “what” needs to be done and “how” it needs to be completed will help minimise any misunderstandings.

Although we are still having a few puddles in the wrong place, Lily is making progress and bearing in mind she is only 10 weeks old, I think we are on track.