Walking a friend’s German Shepherd today got me thinking about dogs, dog training, and how they are like enterprise processes.
When we had a German Shepherd, I did extensive training with him. His foundation was schutzhund, and later we did pure personal protection training. Any dog that’s trained to bite, of course, must—must—have impeccable and reliable obedience first (no responsible trainer would ever so train a dog unless they did). They must not bite unless and until you tell them to (or under circumstances such as you being attacked), and they must release (“out”) instantly when you tell them to, no matter how much they are “in drive”. That takes a good dog, a good trainer (to train both the dog and the owner), and an investment of time. Basie was so well trained that he’d be running at a full clip after a squirrel, I’d yell “down”, and he’d immediately hit the deck. That’s not unusual. Good dogs will be in mid-air, going for a bite (on the bite-suit clad assistant), and an “out” command will cause them to veer off the attack in mid-air.
Dogs absolutely love to be trained to this level. Dogs (most of them, anyway) need a job, and training is both their job and it creates the incredibly strong work bond between them and their owner. In addition to having a purpose, dogs also crave stable, well-ordered—and of course, fair—environments. Different dogs, naturally, will excel at different jobs (a Border Collie, for example, herds sheep supremely well but isn’t any good at Schutzhund). What does it take to train a dog to this level? A good dog, a competent trainer and owner, and commitment.
This is all a lot like enterprise processes. The stable, well-ordered environment comes from stable, well-ordered processes (stable internal processes are not only possible, but critical, in unstable external environments, a point we explore in our book.) The good dog is clearly analogous to good employees (Deming used to preach that it was almost always bad processes, not bad employees, that created bad results; that may be true, but you still have to have good people to begin with). A good trainer relates to an able internal process expert or a consultant, who trains both employees and management. A competent owner is like a competent SBU manager or CEO. And commitment is commitment.
If you have all these ingredients, you get enterprise performance akin to Basie “downing” while chasing a squirrel (I could also put him on a “stay”—without tying him up–while I went into a store, and he’d still be right there when I came out). Most businesses, by contrast, are like the half-trained dogs that you see everywhere, the ones that obey at times but are often out of control. And businesses that will certainly fail in the near future are like dogs with no training, and who their owners have no control at all over.
We all wince when we see out of control dogs. The lesson for enterprise processes is clear.