Muddies know a lot about cats and dogs. And while some of that knowledge comes from years of working at Mud Bay, every Muddy starts with an extensive training program that helps them learn everything they need to know to help people who visit us.
To learn more about our training program, and how it prepares Muddies for their work, we talked to one of our learning and development specialists, Maggie Nelson. Maggie is an instructional designer who builds courses and recently refreshed some of the coursework in our training program for new Muddies. We asked her some questions about learning as a Muddy, as well what Muddies learn to help customers.
After they’re hired, new Muddies start a training program, called the First Year Journey, that helps them learn what they need to be successful. It includes 10 units that cover everything from basic safety to dog and cat health and nutrition to the history of Mud Bay.
Because we’re a company that prides ourselves in offering solution-based advice that makes our retail environment unique, most courses focus on dogs and cats. Different units cover everything from a species’ evolutionary roots that affect nutritional needs to common dog and cat behaviors. We also learn a lot about pet food and what conditions we tend to help dog and cat owners solve.
What should a Muddy completing the First Year Journey expect?
We hire people who are eager to learn more about dog and cat health and nutrition, and who want to share that knowledge with others. So, we construct the program to meet those goals.
Every Muddy gets a blue loose-leaf binder to organize all the curriculum. It includes information as well as worksheets. Muddies start each unit using e-courses, which are interactive videos. You learn and take notes, complete games and quizzes, and watch videos depending on the topic.
The second, most important step, is working with the rest of your team to put your newfound knowledge into practice. These are practical exercises we call “Show What You Know.” We have a list of questions and discussion topics for each unit, as well as some guidelines for what to expect for a complete answer. And then each new Muddy works with their team to talk through different conversations and how to explain complex issues of health and nutrition to people in a way that is gracious and helpful.
The second part isn’t about memorizing answers; it’s about learning how to synthesize different information depending on your audience. Muddies learn to blend what they learn from senior staff members, training, and evidence-based online sources to formulate solution-based answers to common questions.
There are also online “Show What You Know” sections, which can allow Muddies to explore different ways of handling different conversations and see the different outcomes. This training method can help people build confidence as they learn individually with a safe space to make mistakes.
Having a standardized training process creates consistency. We work with a veterinarian and subject matter experts to create the best possible materials and courses about a specific topic. So even if the delivery may be slightly different between Muddies, everyone uses the same decision trees, solution sheets and foundational information. And it’s a foundation we think that people can really trust.
Can you take us through the content of a single unit, just so we know what’s involved?
Sure! Let’s look at Unit 7. Unit 7 covers skin and coat problems with four lessons, as well as an in-person Show What You Know section. Then there’s also a section on digestion that also has four lessons, with two in-person Show What You Know sections. There are additional lessons on feline behavior and care, a few courses on specific products, and an online Show What You Know interactive program to help people work on how to assist customers with specific problems.
It’s a lot, but we prioritize education. You can’t do your job as a Muddy unless you know a lot about cat and dog health and nutrition.
My department, Learning and Development, builds all the online learning tools from scratch. We partner heavily with Dr. Katy, our in-house veterinarian to create a scientifically-based curriculum. She works to stay up-to-date about changes in nutrition, and she’s also able to take incredibly complex scientific information and relate it in a way that makes sense. And in a way that makes sense not just for Muddies, but for customers, too.
We also work with a lot of subject matter experts to build courses that focus on our manufacturing partners. We’ll talk with Mud Bay category managers and get information directly from the company to make the best possible training. We want to be able to answer detailed nutritional questions, such as what is a low glycemic carbohydrate, and why does this company focus on it? Or what’s the difference between hand packing a can or just vacuum sealing it?
We talked about the First Year Journey, but could you talk about what other Muddies do to continue learning?
When we talk about learning, we know it’s an ongoing journey. Science is constantly advancing and we’re learning more about nutrition all the time. Products get better over time, too. So, our department creates a lot of extra content each year that everyone in the company completes. This ranges from specific trainings for different manufacturing partners as well as more complex topics, such as how supplements work in the body.
We’re also working on creating more cohesive programs for Muddies who want to grow their careers with us. Our culture is so unique that it’s crucial for us to help develop leaders who understand and share it with their teams. Right now, we have in-person leadership training at our home office to help people to learn how to effectively lead teams. But we’re always considering what we can do to make all our training programs better.
Mud Bay creates a lot of courses so a person can take the foundational levels of understanding from First Year Journey and build on those. It’s a great motivator for Muddies, who are people who have that curiosity and thirst for knowledge. ***
Learning and Development Specialist Maggie Nelson has been a Muddy for four years. When she’s not working on new courses to help educate and delight Mud Bay staff, she’s hanging out with her three male cats, Az, Malfoy and Björn, or painting and gaming at home.