Well now is your chance. Just take a few minutes to read this and reflect on your discretionary effort, what drives it? What breaks it? And what about those around you?
The new buzz word is ‘engagement’ – and before that there were many articles about the fragile ‘psychological contract’ but let’s take a moment to think about what a lot of companies rely on, success is built on and yet barely gets a mention these days – discretionary effort.
Discretionary effort is the effort that your team members put into work above and beyond the call of duty, or to be more specific beyond the requirements of their employment contract. It is the unmeasured extra effort that you derive from your team members. It is given voluntarily by your employees and can be taken away just as easily.
In many organizations it goes unnoticed, unrewarded and in some just darn well expected! And yet the question has to be asked – how as leaders can we create and manage this energy, focus and drive in a positive way.
I have coached a number of clients who work in harsh environments, where they are under resourced and under rewarded and yet they have a high level of discretionary effort. When I ask them why are you still working there, the answer comes back ‘because I can make a difference to the patients’, ‘because I can make a difference to the kids and their teachers’, ‘because I can make a difference to my team mates’. The theme is consistent a feeling like their work, despite the circumstances, is valued by someone (patients, children, teachers etc) and meaningful to them. The reward of feeling “that feeling” is worth the additional discretionary effort and a degree of personal sacrifice.
So, discretionary effort taps into the deepest motivations of the individual. It links with an individual’s personal vision and purpose. In Peter Senge’s often quoted book The Fifth Discipline he talks about the importance of personal vision or using different language ‘genuine caring’. He writes “When people genuinely care, they are naturally committed. They are doing what they truly wish to do. They are full of energy and enthusiasm. They persevere, even in the face of setbacks, because what they are doing is what they must do. It is their work.”
And I think this is true for some but can discretionary effort be given as a result of other motivators?
So can discretionary effort also tap into an individual’s greatest fear? I’d like to think that the clients I work with are motivated by a true feeling of purpose. I also see them motivated to achieve above and beyond through fear… Fear of not being good enough, fear of failure, fear of being found out, fear of you not liking me, fear of not being right, fear of being not as good as others… so on. Clients who are driven by these thoughts give additional effort to the companies that they work for. So it creates the same output as those motivated by genuine caring – so what’s the difference?
I shared this with a colleague the other day, Ron Jones from Create HR and we came to the conclusion that discretionary effort is voluntary and linked to purpose whereas the fear based motivation could be called ‘Survival effort’ – that is, I am working so hard because I have to prove myself or I fear that I will lost my job.
Ask yourself which one – discretionary or survival is more healthy for the individual and the team, and more sustainable?
So what motivates you to go beyond what is required? What fires your discretionary effort? How does that benefit you? What turns off your discretionary effort? How does it feel when you lost that feeling? How do you reignite it in yourself and can you help others to reignite it?