Training Your Competition?


The pet care industry sees a  lot of turnover. Some of this is for valid reasons; it can be a good part-time job for a student who will graduate and move on, it is often considered an entry-level job, or a person can learn that just loving dogs isn’t enough reason to spend six to eight hours cleaning up after them.  There are a lot of other employees who end up leaving the industry or a location for reasons that are less worthy; your competition lures them away for a little more money, they feel like their opinions aren’t heard, or they do a great job, but don’t see a way to grow in your system. What can you do to save these valuable resources?

According to a study by Work Institute, an HR consulting firm, replacing an employee costs roughly thirty percent of that employee’s annual pay. That’s more than $8200 for a full-time employee making just twelve bucks an hour. This includes paying for advertising, lost revenue due to staff shortages, and lost productivity while getting new hires up to speed. There is also a perception cost with high turnover. In the pet care field, people want to know they can trust you to take care of their precious pets. If they see new faces all the time or keep hearing about employees leaving, they begin to develop a poor opinion of you as a business owner and of the new staff’s ability to understand Fluffy’s needs. First it’s the employees leaving, then it’s the clients abandoning ship. It can become a vicious cycle that cuts into your bottom line.

Just like in dog training, if there is a problem, the first place to look for the cause is the mirror. There is a saying that employees seldom leave a career, they leave managers. Are you a manager people want to work for? If you had a boss who acted like you do to employees, would you want to stay there? Be honest with yourself. If you can’t take feedback or hear anyone else’s opinion, you may need to reevaluate your management style. A final note on this, nothing about management is written in stone. It is constantly in flux and the behaviors that may have been appropriate ten years ago are not necessarily still appropriate or even acceptable. You expect your employees to get better at their roles, shouldn’t you get better at yours? 

There will always be toxic employees who will make you happy by leaving, but in reality, those are the exception to the rule. Think about the last employee you had quit. How did you feel when they left? Now think back to when you hired them. Didn’t you feel excited or at least glad you brought them on? How that relationship blooms or dies on the vine is , in a great part, up to you.

Step one in keeping an employee is hiring the right people. What do you do to screen potential hires? If you’re like many daycares and boarding facilities, you have a three step process: phone screen, in-person interview, and working interview. How can you make these as productive, enlightening, and valuable as possible?

 Make sure you have a written set of questions to ask. You don’t have to read them verbatim, but they should be a good starting point and having the list will make sure you hit all the pertinent topics. Do your questions make sense, cover all the bases, and are they legal?

If you are bringing a candidate in for an in-person interview, be clear about what you expect of them. If you do the in-person interview the same day as the working interview make sure they know that. I have seen people come to an interview dressed to impress which then makes it unfair to ask them to get into a play area with a dozen dogs while wearing dress pants or high heels.*

Engaged employees are good for you and the dogs.

When conducting the working interview, have an agenda and again be very clear about your expectations for them while in the play area. Do you expect them to clean up after the dogs or just watch how your employees do it? Should they jump in if dogs are behaving inappropriately or do want them to be hands-off? Make sure the employees working with them are your rock stars. Don’t let someone start learning from bad apples before they even get the job. On that note, make sure those employees know what to do with a working candidate. Should they ask questions? Give direction? Do they know enough to ask the right questions of an interviewee without getting you into trouble?

Once you have brought someone on, you need a plan to get them up to speed. If you don’t already, create a training manual that will lay out what a new hire will be doing the first week they are at your facility, the first 30-, 60-, 90- days. Then, have a plan to regularly and systematically measure progress to make sure they are hitting the marks. All too often, a new employee gets a few days of instruction, then gets let out on their own. This often creates a feeling of insecurity or a lack of confidence in people, which will then become job dissatisfaction, which will then become looking for different opportunities. 

Even when someone has been working for you for a while, follow up on training. Ask questions about what they do and how they do it, so you know they are doing their job at a level that meets your high standards.

So, you hired someone, trained them, and now a year later, what is there for them? Not everyone wants to move up in a company, but many do. They want opportunities for growth, development, and raises. Many daycare and boarding businesses keep the hierarchy simple, you are a worker, a lead, or a manager. This creates issues for anyone wanting to develop a long term career with you. Even if you want to keep a limited number of rungs on the ladder, you have areas where you can help your staff develop skills and get opportunities to take some of the work off your to-do list. This may be one of the most important things you do to keep good employees. According to an article by Tahir Mohammad in Entrepreneur Magazine, the number one reason people said they stayed at a company was engagement. Think of different tasks that one can lead, such as inventory, safety, and staff training to name a few. This can ease your workload while letting staff feel like they have an impact on how the business runs. The key here is your follow-up. If you hand off inventory for example, don’t just hope for the best. Check in with the person assigned to it and see how they are doing. Find out where they see issues and make sure they are doing it to your satisfaction. Remember, this is not just a role, but an opportunity for their in-house development and you may need to give some guidance.

A last piece of the puzzle in keeping your best and brightest, is what incentive you give them to stay. Time after time, managers say the reason they can’t get or keep good employees is money. It is true, better pay attracts people in the beginning, but researchers at Gallup found that when employees were asked why they stayed at a given job, pay (including benefits and bonuses) fell to fourth place. Top of the list? Being engaged and appreciated. What do you do to let your staff know how much they mean? Do you have a culture that champions their roles or what that looks at what they do as simply tasks to accomplish? Do they know how important what they do is to your business and to the pet owners who come to you? You can offer job perks, such as free boarding or retail discounts, but these may get you less return than developing a culture that respects those people working for you.  

One final note on retaining employees. It is up to you as a manager to create the culture you want. If someone is slipping, you need to step up and fix it, not in a week or a month, but as soon as you can. Let people know what is expected and how to achieve that standard. There is no place for passive aggressive management in a well run facility. If you get involved and meet problems head on, you will find them far easier to handle than if you wait and let them fester, potentially infecting other employees as well. It can be hard, and not everyone will or should stay, but you may also turn around someone who may otherwise have been out the door and put them on track to be a great part of your team.

Working at a daycare or boarding kennel is hard work and often underappreciated. If you don’t create an atmosphere that makes your employees feel valued and engaged, you may soon find that you are simply a training ground for your competition’s best new hires.

What ideas do you have for keeping employees excited about working for you. Drop me a line and let me know what has worked for you. If you want to start improving your culture, create training plans, or develop an employee handbook and don’t know where to start, contact Tony at and ask about consulting services.

*Never ask someone to go into a play area if they were not wearing safe and appropriate attire. 


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