Helping Employees Turn Their Performance Around

by Dr. Susan Cain and Debbie Roberts-Loucks

Recently, we received an interesting request for information. The sender, a human resources professional, saw a correlation between what Monty does in the round pen with horses to inspire trust and motivation and how it can impact the workplace. Click here to download further information about the retreats and workshops based on Monty’s principles that are offered to corporations at Flag Is Farms.

Dear Monty,

Have you ever looked at applying “Equus” in changing the progressive disciplinary systems of companies? If yes, I would love to get my hands on materials that you have developed for this purpose. If not, I’d especially enjoy speaking with you again and see what your thoughts are on this.

Creating circumstances to help horses or humans perform at their best requires similar skills.

A round pen and a learning environment in the workplace must start with the absence of fear, an abundance of support and encouragement, transparent expectations, and a negotiated agreement to moving forward. Force can create short-term responses, but can build resentment later. Monty shared a story from his book, the New York Times Best Seller, The Man Who Listens to Horses:

The most influential teacher in my educational career was a nun by the name of Sister Agnes Patricia. The thing I will always remember about her is that she taught me about teaching itself. It was her belief that no teacher could ever teach anyone anything. She felt her task, as a teacher was to create an environment in which the student can learn.

Her opinion was that knowledge needs to be pulled into the brain by the student, not pushed into it by the teacher. Knowledge was not to be forced on a student. The brain has to be receptive, malleable and most importantly desirous of that knowledge. I apply the same philosophy to training horses. To use the word ‘teach’ implies an injection of knowledge, but it is my opinion – garnered from Sister Agnes – that there is no such thing as teaching, only learning.

Setting the right environment for an employee to turn performance around starts with the assumption that improvements cannot be forced.

We have created three vital lessons that taken from “Join-Up”:

1. Respect for freedom of choice: In the round pen, free choice is placed on the table and the human leader offers support for change. In the workplace, an effective manager or leader might also disclose consequences if a performance is not improved. The crucial learning lesson from the round pen is that free choice is engaged, and horse or human have options-resist or engage. Resentence, the ability to say no, forms the basis for any possible commitment, replacing compliance and lip service. As a trainer, Monty treats horses that are resistive with the same respect as horses that have decided to “Join-Up.”

2. Resist the temptation to react: Tension and reaction limit the ability to manage the changing situation. Stay neutral and step outside the need to fix. Stay involved and available. Listen to your follower. Offer affirmation. How can you facilitate the situation so that it culminates in the best interest for all?

3. Generate options: If the follower decides not to “Join-Up” and improve performance, be very careful about lowering your standards to accommodate their choice. There are still many options for them, including employment elsewhere, a change in position, or other options that perhaps they were unable to see before. What skill or information gaps can you help close to help them move forward?

Even a horse that decides to “Join-Up” has specific fears to overcome and lessons to learn. How can you help your follower move forward, even if it is not with you?

Watch the Join-Up in Monty’s video above, and think about other ways you can transfer the key learning’s from round pen to the office. Contact Susan Cain for more information at

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