THURSDAY THOUGHTS! - What is "discretionary effort?"

Posted by | January 09, 2014 | Thursday Thoughts | No Comments

keep-calm-and-go-the-extra-mile-6The final aspect of enhancing staff engagement brings us to the point of extracting maximum discretionary effort out of our staff.  We might personally be of the mindset that we truly believe all employees will always give their all due to a commitment to the organisation or similar (usually we will believe this given our own motivation and values in the workplace), but the reality is often very different! So what is “discretionary effort” and how do we go about motivating it?

Discretionary effort is the level of effort people could give if they wanted to, over and above what is absolutely required.  It’s what performance appraisals are all about – identifying where more of this can be found and utilised from each and every individual.  It’s probably why performance appraisals are universally loathed by all – when it’s performed badly with those who already feel like they are giving the organisation everything they have to offer, and they are asked for more, or left feeling unappreciated or unvalued for their contributions to date.  There is definitely a knack to extracting discretionary effort!

Some organisations achieve this (thought to be approximately c30%) through headhunting and luring the best employees away with offers of a stake in the organisation.  This is typical if such employees are motivated by that very commitment mentioned earlier.  John Lewis for example gives all permanent, full time employees shares in the company so they have instant ownership over maximising sales figures and other bottom line activities.

During performance appraisals, our managers are likely to see any one (or more!) of five faces from us.  We’ve all seen these faces on others, but how many of us are aware enough to recognise when we are displaying them ourselves?  Which one are you currently wearing?

  1. The Diva: thinks they are a world class performer and has a great deal of opinion about how others should do their jobs!  They are usually high performers in at least one aspect of their role, which has given them plenty of indication that everything they do is a right judgement.  The problem is, they have plenty of development needs in other areas of their roles but they have vastly under-developed self awareness skills and this produces real blind spots.  They are often specialists. In any self assessment exercise, they will rate themselves highly.  They can often be disruptive to any team scenario.  This face produces difficult conversations and requires strong management.  Motivation and incentivisation of this face, to produce high commitment and engagement levels is difficult but essential. Consider the questions people ask and answer during any engagement survey because if left unchecked, this face will produce disproportionate influence on the rest of the team.
  2. The Deflector: lots of excuses and explanations about why they CAN’T do something or why something CAN’T happen, in their experience. These reasons are always outside their span of control and their entire behaviour is governed by this concept of fate and luck.  They will believe you as their manager are part of the overall problem.  This is the most problematic face to motivate and incentivise to engage.  They can be decent performers but the more bureaucratic your organisation becomes, the more evidence of Deflectors you will find.  Left unchecked, discretionary effort will be extinct!
  3. The 9 to 5er: Classic face.  They have very set schedules and cut off easily at certain times.  Often a steady performer but does only that which is required and absolutely no more.  Discretionary effort can often be “bought” with this face through offering added flexibility, particularly if it is involuntary, as a result of caring needs etc.  Incentivisation and motivation is often through time segmentation so its important to understand what makes your people tick.
  4. The Upwardly Mobile: This is the fun face!  These folk seek to excel but often can’t see what their next career step might be.  This face is great to have around and incentivisation and motivation is often through giving recognition and regular feedback.  But they crave your interest in them and beware if you leave them alone for too long without stroking.  Don’t let the deflector anywhere near them!  They need intensive coaching but discretionary effort can be achieved if stroked regularly. They like to describe, in detail, how they will or are going about things and will be seeking reinforcement regularly.  However, because they are so unsure of their own abilities, they are unlikely to be seen as influencers for, or by, others. They can be engaged through involvement in activity, but are rarely leaders of others due to their insecurity in their own competence.
  5. The Star: The best face of the bunch.  They are in control of their area of responsibility and you need to keep them!  High confidence and a magnet for others to seek guidance from.  They are influential throughout the organisation, and  usually profoundly self-aware.  They are often autonomous and will act without you even having to steer. Incentivising and motivating your Stars is usually achieved from giving them room to act independently on occasions, re-engaging them with exciting initiatives etc.  Once they are excited about something, you automatically have a highly engaged individual who will engage others infectiously.

So this series has looked at producing highly engaged individuals, with the potential for high discretionary effort. If only a third of the workforce are engaged, then only a third are currently providing that vital discretionary effort all organisations are seeking for improvement and success.   And if discretionary effort can be up to 30%, then this third of the workforce are clearly carrying the rest.

Now isn’t that a profound thought for all managers wishing to improve their managerial skills!

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Sharon Davidson
Organisational development professional specialising in personal, team and whole organisation improvement. Full range of OD tools and techniques available including: Belbin team role analysis; learning style inventories; 360 degree feedback; cultural assessments; personality psychometrics; strategic planning and workshop facilitation. (This list is not exhaustive!)

Improvement is everyone's concern: +44 1550 720902 will start that process today.

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