How to Train a Chicken (the real secrets of leadership, management and team building)

You learn so much about people, teams and leadership by training chickens.

Our new chickens, which we’ve named Chasseur, Casserole, Cajun and Stuart are bright, friendly and highly trainable. I’m talking distinguishing between different shapes, coming to you when called, playing the xylophone and even riding a skateboard; and perhaps more useful in your role at work, they can help you to create super switched on management teams, too.

Are they souper chickens? We like to think so!

I have repeated the phrase: ‘people shouldn’t be allowed children until they have first learned to train a chicken’ many times. The reason is that chickens are pretty unforgiving; if they’re bored or you fail to clearly guide them, they’ll just walk off. There are plenty of better things for chickens to do than wait around for you to get your act together and work out what you’re trying to get them to do: pecking the ground, eating grain, preening, taking a dust bath, scratching my rose beds, chasing the dog, having a little bask in the sun; they don’t need you. If you’re in a leadership or management role, that might sound like a familiar situation.

If you want to train them to do the simplest of tasks, like  ‘come to you when you call them’, you’re going to need to understand how reinforcement and punishment really work: what is it that makes us do things more often, or do things less often? Why do we do what we do and how can we modify that for the better? To train a chicken you need to be absolutely clear about what behaviour you’re looking for, what you’re going to do when you see it, what you’ll do if they do something you don’t want to see, how you’re going to reinforce them, when, how often and have a very clear understanding of what you’re doing as you go along. Modifying behaviour; training chickens or people doesn’t have to be complicated or a minefield. If you can train a chicken, you will have developed clear communication skills, precision, patience and a deeper understanding of behaviour and at the same time had a lot of fun!

The beauty is that we can learn a LOT from chickens that can be literally transferred to our workplaces, and in some cases chickens aren’t all that dissimilar to some people you might work with, but that’s for another blog.

Awards ceremonies and recognition events are a great example of where a lack of understanding in how we are motivated to continue doing things can fail to have the desired effect. The basics are really quite simple: if you want to see specific behaviour more often, such as a desirable interaction with customers, effective sales strategy, or good team modelling, the reinforcement or encouragement needs to happen as soon as possible after the behaviour, ideally during it. That very clearly locks the association in our minds: what I’m doing right now is a good thing and positive things happen as a result when I do it. However, what many organisations do is wait until their annual awards ceremony, several months later, and offer a largely random reward, normally alcohol and a trophy of some sort.

What do you think chickens would love as a reward? What would you offer a chicken to reinforce them to do something again? If you’re guessing grain, or worms, those are okay guesses. There’s a particular type of grain though that is like heaven in a cup for chickens and is a sure fire way to get them to do more. But grain doesn’t work as a strategy if they’re not hungry. Why reward someone with a bottle of Champagne if they don’t drink alcohol, or don’t drink Champagne? That’s like trying to get a chicken to do something and offering it a chocolate egg (they much prefer kale) as a reward. But when does a reward become a bribe and is that a problem? Well, it’s a pretty serious problem long-term: if you promise people a result, such as a fancy trip to Dubai for a high performing sales season, that’s a bribe and the BIG problem with bribes is that behaviours become contingent on the bribe itself: without offer of the end result, the behaviours don’t occur naturally. It’s a little bit like telling your children to tidy their room and promoting them ice cream when they’ve done it. We pair the promise of a good thing with the act. The next time you ask them to tidy their room, they’ll be waiting for the ice cream. No ice cream? That room best tidy itself!

If a unique team building, leadership or management training course is of use to you, to help you better understand how to modify behaviour, learn the most effective punishment and reinforcement strategies (for humans!), why not join us on the farm and meet Chasseur, Cajun, Stuart and Casserole for yourself in one of our brand new business training courses; our ultimate business course:  How to Train a Chicken?

“You want me to do WHAT?!”

For a maximum of 14 people at a time, I’ll help you to better understand the basics of human behaviour, the most efficacious strategies for punishment and reinforcement in your business and you’ll get to test those theories and your newly learnt leadership skills on our chickens. Enjoy exclusive use of our purpose built, air-conditioning built barn ,home made pizza cooked in our outdoor wood-fired oven, unlimited hot drinks and smoothies from our juice fridge, a prize-giving ceremony with delegates CPD certificates, course materials and a signed copy of my book, ‘Flip the Switch’ for each delegate. 

Click here to check availability and for more information.

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