Ever since the very first seminar that introduced the very first group class in 2005, clevercanines has been in a constant state of rapid growth and change. With so many new team members coming on board, it became very apparent how important it was to define our core values and ensure that our entire team was acting consistently with clevercanines’ values. After all, it is this culture that has delivered the success we have experienced thus far. It is this culture that will deliver our message. Without it, we would cease to educate and enable dog owners to experience freedom.
“How you do anything is how you do everything.”
We believe that our thoughts, actions and habits flow through all aspects of our lives. We also believe in selecting our team based on shared core values. If these values are already in place, then we simply need to educate them on the knowledge, skills and techniques they need to be successful in their roles. We have identified nine core values that are crucial to the success of clevercanines and to each team member within his or her roles.
Our core values are written as affirmations. An affirmation is a specific, positive statement saying that something you want is already so. It’s imperative that our core values align with each team member’s own personal values. If there is alignment with our respective values, then each team member will experience success and fulfillment, both personally and within his or her role at clevercanines.
As we grow, we will continue to change and improve. Our systems, teaching methods, and even our ideals may change, but our core values will remain. Each decision that we make, big or small, will be held against these core values. Therefore, any changes made in any part of the business will be consistent with our values.I reach for the stars when delivering customer service
Creating a five star experience means creating a positive emotional impact through client service
clevercanines is not an average company. Our team members are not average, nor do we deliver average service. To create a five star experience means we must continuously exceed expectations. We must always set ourselves apart. We must always be listening, creating, tweaking, and enhancing. And when our competition starts to catch on, we will already have moved on and set a new benchmark.
Our clients are dynamic. Each family has different goals and needs. We must also be dynamic. What might work for one family, may not work for another. Being creative and open-minded helps our team to better serve our clients. To truly enable all owners to experience freedom with their dogs, our service must be amenable to the differing needs of our clients.
An understanding and consciousness of the client perspectives must be front of mind; when our clients talk about us to friends and family we want the message communicated to be that we are fun and professional, that our methods work, and that we provide a sense of community. Our team must always be in sync with our message, as well as always gathering feedback for improvement.
Simply meeting client expectations is three star service at best. To achieve four or five star service, we need to constantly be asking “what else can I do…?” to enhance the clients’ experience with clevercanines. Going above and beyond to achieve a five star service can be demonstrated by knowing and using client names, using resources such as Chatter to collaborate on training protocols for a specific client, or spending time coaching and encouraging children who are participating in class.
Every individual that we come in contact with should be considered a client, even if they do not currently own a dog. We want them to feel welcomed, and to remember their experience and interaction with our team members, should they choose to own a dog in the future, or refer us to a friend.
If we succeed in delivering a five star experience for our clients, then we succeed in creating an emotional impact through our service, and we succeed in enabling dog owners to experience freedom.
clevercanines challenge: What can I do to make this client feel valued, important and cared for? What can I do to make today a five star experience?
I do what I love and I love what I do, and I ain’t afraid to show it!
The clevercanines team is unique. Coming together from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences, we all have one thing in common, we love our dogs. So when our roles involve helping to positively affect the lives of dogs and helping owners build relationships with their dogs, it’s easy to say, we love our jobs.
Our team are cheerleaders for the company, utilizing programs and services and rallying behind new ideas by supporting every initiative and striving to exceed outlined results. Our team members demonstrate commitment by participating in team building events, programs, Chatter, social media and company incentive programs.
Our team members are our advocates. They believe in our mission and share it, like it, tweet it, and post it. They are always thinking of better ways to deliver our services and brainstorming new business ideas. They refer friends, family, and coworkers to our programs and services. They even demonstrate their pride and passion by enthusiastically sharing what we do with complete strangers! They understand the programs and services we offer and are excited to get others involved. They not only share the benefits of what we offer with others, but also love to engage people by sharing our company’s story as well as their own journey to success with their dogs.
The team is willing to provide extra support to clients and fellow team members, even if it means going above and beyond expectations. When things get tough, we stick around, stay enthusiastic and find a solution to the problem. When we are dealing with personal issues, we leave them on the s#*t tree and give our full self to our team, clients and their dogs.
Celebrating success is another way we express our enthusiasm. When our clients and coworkers succeed, overcome a challenge, or progress in their skills, we make a big deal about it. Our team knows that high fives, pats on the back, or sending a “well done” email will make our others feel proud and excited over their progress, and the experience will stand out in their minds.
Initiating or encouraging gossip, as well as being negative or condescending, undermines the team morale and the client experience. Having contagious enthusiasm and positivity means staying ‘above the line’. Not only is our team conscious with staying ‘above the line’, they are also proactive in keeping others above it.
clevercanines challenge: If someone was watching me, and I didn’t know it, would they describe me as being enthusiastic and think, “wow – that person must really love his or her job!”?
Open, honest, and effective communication is fundamental for relationships and personal growth
Personal and professional relationships can too easily deteriorate when effective communication is lacking. Assumptions can be made, feelings can get hurt, resentment can build, and negative feelings can grow. These effects of weak communication are true for our relationships with our team members, our customers, and our dogs.
Proactively asking questions to learn more about situations can help us understand change or provide solutions to problems. Providing feedback and receiving feedback with an open mind can help us to grow and improve.
Having effective communication skills takes practice and can be more challenging with differing personality types. As a company, we realize that in order to have effective communication, we must provide our team a variety of channels, forums and opportunities for feedback, communication and collaboration.
Utilizing the correct method of communication will reduce the chances of messages not getting to the correct audience. For example: use scheduling software to communicate availability and working preferences or utilize our Enterprise Social Network, posting within specific groups to differentiate between topics and lines of business.
A benefit to having many team members with various skills, specialties and knowledge is a strong peer network. This network is an amazing tool that allows anyone to get advice on training, framing, or any topic. Taking advantage of this ensures that communication from all team members to each other, clients and the public is framed appropriately, above the line, and consistent regardless of who answers.
Setting expectations is often an undervalued form of communication. The management team strives for this through training programs, core value focus and sharing clear results with the team. Having the entire organization on the same page when it comes to the business as a whole will encourage forward thinking and looking out for not only personal interests, but also professional ones.
Feedback is crucial and allows management to make the best decisions for the business and the team. Presenting ideas to management, utilizing the daily debriefs, and following up on solutions or requests guarantees each team and individual receives what they need. Encouraging individuals to step forward so communication comes from the source rather than a third party will ensure negativity doesn’t fester within a person or team. Avoid criticizing, condemning, or complaining, especially in the form of gossip to remain above the line.
Remember, your managers want you to succeed and want to help you with challenges. The first step of asking for your manager’s time is daunting for most people, however when you do you will always be welcomed with warmth, openness, compassion and understanding. Whether you need advice on communicating with peers and clients, have specific questions about scheduling or working with certain dogs, or just need someone to talk to, your manager will be happy to give you their full attention and support and thrilled that you stepped up to ask for what you need. Asking for what you require is never viewed as an imposition.
We must also listen with openness, receptivity and sensitivity in each situation. Open, honest and effective communication is a two way street that leads to strong relationships. Accepting feedback is just as important as giving it and being open to this leads to individual growth.
Being solutions focused whenever possible can change concerns from what can be perceived as complaining, to problem solving. Communicating all ideas, suggestions, concerns or problems to the proper audience is imperative so that the appropriate action can be taken. Look to the people who have the ability to make changes or implement solutions to find the appropriate audience and remain above the line. Use the communication tree and best person policy to find the ideal person for any scenario. Communication is everyone’s responsibility. If you are feeling frustrated, unsure, or like you need more information, it’s your obligation to ask for what you need.
clevercanines challenge: Is there something that I’m not saying? Am I sending my message to the appropriate audience?
Trust, a vital component to the business, must be earned and maintained through our actions and impressions
When potential clients contact us and ask for advice, we have an opportunity to earn their trust. People do business with people, and will instinctively choose to do business with those people they feel deserve their trust. When these clients attend our classes and follow through with our training and services, they are placing more trust in our team and our process. Our clients have implicitly stated that they believe in our competency, reliability and honesty. Similarly, each team member was inspired to join the company for the same reasons and it is important to support and trust each other as well. Once trust is lost, it is very difficult to regain. Therefore, being and acting trustworthy is the only sure way of maintaining trust. We believe that integrity, fairness and professionalism are trustworthy attributes.
Integrity involves acting with consistency in values, methods and principles, and with honesty and truthfulness. We not only teach, we also practice what we preach both in and outside of class. Acting with consistency applies to each team member individually, and as a whole. A team member who runs into a client on days off will be using the same methods, tools and techniques as the client is learning in class, no matter which program the staff member belongs to. If our clients receive inconsistent messages from us, their belief in our reliability and competency diminishes. Consistency also includes fairness. When bias is not a factor, our team and clients can be confident that all actions and decisions made are based on their best interests and not on favouritism or discrimination.
Clients will inevitably have questions and this is an area where utilizing our team is essential. Answering within our scope of knowledge and directing questions outside of that to the office so the best person can be consulted is the easiest way to prevent miscommunications or differing views from eroding our client’s trust in our expertise. Don’t pretend to have all the answers, even if you think you are right. There is always more than one option based on the specific scenario. Each team member will know the questions they are qualified to answer based on their approvals through the passport system in terms of skills-based knowledge related to the programs or services they are part of.
There is often a feeling of needing to answer every question posed by a client, yet there is huge power in holding off an answer in order to think about the specific case and even consult other team members first. When we ask for that time, the client knows that we are committed to finding the best solutions and information for them specifically, opposed to simply rattling off standard responses. That trust is further increased when we follow up with a detailed response or plan that they can implement successfully.
The way we are perceived professionally is also a factor in maintaining trust. Swearing, complaining, and speaking poorly of others gives the impression of being unprofessional. Additionally, arriving late to class, and not presenting yourself in a clean, well groomed manner is also unprofessional and can negatively affect trust among the team as well as with clients. Personal feelings can greatly affect the way we present ourselves and we want our clients to perceive that they and their dogs are our first and only priority. Lift where you stand; have a mindset of what else can I do versus what do I get. Clients will feel the difference in intention and will be more trusting of those who demonstrate care for them. Being professional is not about being stuffy. Our team projects an image of being friendly, confident, approachable, knowledgeable, and fun with a genuine interest in our clients and each other.
Being trustworthy inspires positive expectations. Having trust in a relationship makes it easier to succeed because our customers are open to our techniques and advice, are more open to sharing with and confiding in us, and are expecting the best outcome.
clevercanines challenge: If someone asks me a question, and then the same question to someone else, will our answers demonstrate consistency and build trust? What image am I projecting today? Are my words projecting a professional image?
Thankfulness leads to a feeling of personal fulfillment and attracts positive interactions, so find ways to practice daily!
There is a certain power behind the simple words “thank you”. Gratitude means thankfulness, counting our blessings, noticing simple pleasures, and acknowledging everything that we receive. It means learning to live our life as if everything were a miracle, and being aware on a continuous basis of how much we’ve been given. Gratitude shifts our focus from what our life lacks to the abundance that is already present. Giving thanks makes people happier and more resilient, it strengthens relationships, it improves health, and it reduces stress.
We must ensure we express our gratitude in a timely & sincere manner to our clients, managers, and our coworkers. Expressing gratitude and saying “thank you” can produce positive emotional responses and take relationships to the next level. Each person has stories of a time where they received gratitude or appreciation from someone, whether in a work capacity or personally. Wouldn’t you want everyone to feel that way? When was the last time a coworker took a shift or helped you catch up on your duties? When was the last time your manager took the time to answer your questions or give you some extra help? When was the last time a client gave you the gift of choosing to bring their dog to clevercanines over a competitor? These are perfect examples of times to show gratitude.
A lack of gratitude can breed complacency and affect the way we interact with the people around us. This complacency can shape our thoughts by thinking things just happen, when in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Simply expecting things to happen in our favour means we are not conscious of the fact every person has a choice. Expressing gratitude will encourage people to choose to go the extra mile for you, or to make a decision that will positively affect you, your coworkers, our clients, or the company.
Gratitude is not just reserved for the people around us, but for ourselves as individuals as well. Taking a moment to reflect on the good you’ve done today will bring positivity and rewards all on their own. Feeling the sense of accomplishment and personal success will bring fulfillment to our own lives, not just those around us. Showing gratitude to ourselves and others is very impactful and personally rewarding as you know you have made someone else feel good.
Seize each opportunity to remind yourself, and those around you, that someone in their life values them, even if it is for something seemingly small. The way you treat others is how you can expect to be treated. Sending gratitude in unexpected forms such as a card in the mail is a great way to go above and beyond expectations and create lasting loyalty. Saying thank you to every client who uses a program or service is important to create repeat clients versus one time customers. A smile and a thank you can brighten an entire day! It’s fun and it’s free! Regardless of the way you say it, if you are sincere people will respond positively. There are so many ways to say thank you, so be creative!
clevercanines challenge: Who have I said thank you to today? Am I conscious of the fact that everyone around me is “choosing” to be around me? When people interact with me, from clients to team members, do they feel valued and important? Did I take action to brighten someone’s day by expressing how much I appreciate him or her?
Having the ability to understand and share the feelings of others is powerful and essential
Inclusivity is a value that helped build clevercanines’ reputation. Founder, Tracie Nielson, experienced first hand the discrimination against her dog as she tried to reach out and get some help. So when she started clevercanines, being inclusive was of the utmost importance to the company. Our conduct affects the atmosphere inside other people. They will make it mean something about themselves. Being able to empathize means we are in tune with that and we can take steps to influence them positively.
As the company has grown over the years, inclusivity has grown with it. Inclusivity means that we accept every dog, regardless of breed or behaviour. Every person we interact with, regardless of personality type, communication style, religion, political view, ethnicity, age, or appearance, receives the same level of respect, value and care. More than that, we actively embrace new clients and team members, welcoming them into our community and creating lifelong loyalty and friendships by taking the time to know them on a more personal level.
Using empathy as a tool is powerful, as it helps us to understand and share the feelings of others. It helps us to build stronger, deeper relationships, and ultimately helps us to communicate better. Being able to step into the shoes of others helps us to better support each other, team members, customers, and the company as a whole. Taking the time to listen, pause, then respond is essential in working with other staff or clients, especially if the feedback is not positive or there is frustration present. Validating feelings, showing gratitude for the honesty and courage it can take to speak up, and empathizing with the other person can relax someone who is uncomfortable or diffuse a tense situation. Using empathy creates a comfortable, open environment where clients or team members are more likely to confide in you and become more receptive to your ideas and assistance.
clevercanines challenge: Does everyone feel heard? Does everyone feel seen? Does everyone feel like they matter? Will they go home and share their experience about feeling understood and supported? Does everyone feel like they fit in?
A strong team dynamic generates synergy which maximizes the strengths of each team member
A group of people does not necessarily make up a team. If the group develops a strong, mutual commitment, this creates synergy and the group transforms into a team. If team members coordinate and use their strong individual skills, attributes and experiences, the team will produce results greater than the sum of individual results.
A few ways to develop a strong, mutual commitment to create synergy are:
- Offering generous support to each other, and by asking for help when needed.
- Understanding that individual actions and decisions can have either a positive or negative affect on fellow team members. These effects, both positive and negative, affect the team’s performance, which affects the customer experience. For example, not showing up to a class leaves the team short handed, which increases stress levels, which directly affects the overall experience and personal attention that customers receive.
- Leveraging off of each other’s skills and experiences to enhance the customer experience and for problem solving. Good news, we don’t have to be good at everything. Our team has it covered!
- Practicing strong, effective communication.
- Having fun! Have you ever noticed that having the giggles is contagious? When the team is having fun, the clients are having fun too, thus creating a positive experience for them. Always think of ways to incorporate fun into your team.
clevercanines challenge: Does my team have more fun because I’m in it? Will my decision or action benefit the team and solidify trust? Am I part of the problem, or part of the solution?
You are either growing, or you are dying
For some people, the idea of constant change is uncomfortable. For clevercanines, the idea of constant change is exciting. Change means that we are evolving, growing and improving. Being comfortable and complacent means that we are not growing, we are actually dying. Our team are cheerleaders for change and are always willing to try something new before making a judgement about it. They are also effective communicators as they are open to new ideas rather than simply trying to express their point of view.
The way the company looked in 2005 is completely different than how the company looks today. Our business model has changed, the industry has changed, programs have been added, tweaked, and redesigned. Our clientele has shifted, our training methods have evolved, our team has grown. This can lead to last minute or “on the fly” changes, and the clevercanines team understands that it happens and are willing to roll with it. This willingness to be open and adapt to new ideas actually often inspires more new change and ideas which enhance our core values and client perspectives.
Each change that comes our way is an opportunity for us to improve and better serve our customers and ultimately make a difference in the lives of their dogs. Change can and will come from all directions, so it is important that our team is not only prepared for it, but that we embrace and drive the change. We can do this by sharing our ideas, knowing that we each have a unique perspective which is valuable to the team. We must be able to use empathy to understand changes, be open-minded, be flexible and adaptable, and enthusiastically support change. Clear communication is essential to having the team on the same page and will help smooth the bumpy patches than can often accompany change.
clevercanines challenge: Is there something that could be done differently, or more effectively? How do I feel about new clevercanines initiatives? If I have questions about changes, am I asking? Am I supporting the change and helping the company move forward with it? Have I given it an honest try before giving my feedback or making judgements? Am I holding myself accountable to implement and stick to new techniques or routines, even though they may feel strange at first?
Being creative and resourceful leads to the financial health of the company
Doing more with more is easy! Being able to do more with less means always thinking of ways to work more efficiently and decrease the amount of work required to get the job done right. It does not mean making our jobs harder! It means being able to act and thrive within a given amount of resources. It means being creative and finding ways to enhance client experiences without increasing cost to clients by asking, “What else can I do to set myself, my team, and my clients up for success using what I have around me?” It also means having the ability to think on your feet and effectively come up with solutions to problems as they arise.
When going about their regular work, a team member who is thinking about doing more with less is finding ways to work smarter rather than harder. They will ensure they have all tools and supplies before they actually need them so they don’t waste time making extra trips to gather everything they need to be successful. They will reorient or reorganize now to create a smooth and easy experience later. They make every moment count in terms of productivity and are quick to recognize inefficient processes and find a solution.
Troubleshooting to minimize disruptions when obstacles are encountered on the class route requires spontaneous adjustments can be challenging, though being able to think on the fly will smooth the client experience and increase the perceived value of programs and services. Tracking levels of supplies to properly plan and optimize resources is essential not only to controlling costs, but also to ensure a productive and efficient workspace for all team members. Suggesting improvements to make class processes easier, more efficient or more effective will help clients reach their goals with their dogs while reducing workload for staff members. Following outlined procedures and polices for ease and consistency in operations and looking at existing resources (books, people, videos, training plans) will increase knowledge base and cohesiveness with a minimum amount of time lost due to inefficiency. No one likes to do extra work without benefit!
Streamlining systems to maximize efficiency and create operational excellence is important to control administrative costs. Brainstorming ways to reach more people without using more resources and searching for ways to automate tasks will decrease the workload of staff while delivering a five star client experience. Keeping projects within defined roles ensures that projects being worked on are both urgent and important to the company’s goals and strategies. Respecting other people’s time by minimizing unnecessary disruption means approaching the best person for specific requests and understanding how to find information in operations manuals or other resources as well as communicating through appropriate channels (email, phone, Chatter, etc.)
clevercanines challenge: What else can I do to be more creative, resourceful and efficient with the tools that have been provided to me? What else can I do with the resources I have? What else can I do to make my job easier?
Awareness, good judgement and acting on common sense creates a safe work environment
At clevercanines, our team is our most valuable asset. For this reason, we are uncompromising in taking any risks that can put our team, our clients and dogs, and all others in the environment in danger. We teach dog owners that their number one responsibility is to keep their dog safe. Our number one responsibility is to keep all individuals around us safe.
We place trust in the very capable hands of our team to lead classes either in our own facility or all over the city and surrounding area. All team members are empowered to seek support from their peer and management teams. It is important for all team members to feel they are in a safe environment when communicating with management and each other, and it is each team member’s responsibility to not only relay information and feedback, but also to ensure they use compassion when delivering it to keep lines of communication open and safe with no damage or hurt to anyone involved in the conversation.
Each team member needs to have a few mental tools on hand at all times:
Know the safety procedures
Know them inside and out, backwards and upside down. In an emergency, there may not be time to stop and think about what to do. One value statement clevercanines uses is that we are the best in the industry when it comes to safety. This mean we actively take initiative to mitigate safety risks and is why we have a low number of incidents in general and an extremely low number of serious incidents through the entire company. A mistake in this area could be detrimental to dogs, owner, staff or even the company as a whole.
Assessment and awareness
At each and every class, our team must make assessments and be constantly aware. Being proactive when it comes to safety is essential to having a positive outcome.
- What are the weather, sidewalk and pathway conditions like?
- What are the capabilities of this group, dogs and people alike? Are there any special needs? Children? Seniors?
- Where am I choosing to gather the group? Is the entire group present? Have I done a head count?
- Are all team members in the right position?
- Is there a dog that poses as a potential threat to other dogs or people?
- What reactivity issues do I need to be aware of? Am I setting the dogs up for success by keeping them under threshold to reduce the likelihood of a negative outcome?
Common sense & good judgement
Once assessments have been made, our team must exercise good judgement, think through actions and decisions, and most importantly, listen to their common sense, be confident and take decisive actions. Stop to reassess often to ensure adjustments are not needed.
clevercanines challenge: Do I know what to do in case of an emergency? Am I prepared to take charge, spring into action and manage the situation? Do I see a potential hazard and do I speak up about it? Am I where I need to be to protect my group? Would I behave the same if cameras were rolling? What is the possible perception of my actions to an uninformed bystander?