Securing Discretionary Effort

Determining how to get the best from people at work is an ongoing quest for anybody leading a team. So what is it that makes people invest the extra effort, take ownership of objectives and accept responsibility at work?

When people willingly add value over and above the contracted minimum standards by providing unpaid overtime, using their own initiative and by taking ownership for quality or organisational goals they provide "Discretionary Effort". In economic terms securing this for no additional cost, drops straight to the “bottom line”.

The catch is that by definition we can't pay for discretionary effort - or entice, cajole or beat it out of others. People provide it willingly - because they want to. So how do we secure more of it?

A Corporate Leadership Council study on the subject indicates that the most important thing people seek is to have a "quality manager" at work. People are more likely to offer discretionary effort to a manager that meets this criteria.

So what does a "quality manager" look like? The survey found the five most important factors for positively influencing team members at work are:

  1. Being entrusted with responsibility and independence
  2. Interesting and challenging work
  3. Positive working relationships
  4. Good communication and feedback
  5. Positive relationships with other team members

Entrusting people with responsibility and independence

Traditionally the manager controlled everything and held the authority for any decisions. If we can only trust one person this makes sense, but if we have a team of competent people this controlled approach, actually inhibits their working at full potential.

By empowering the team, new dynamics are created. The leader does not lose their overall authority but they delegate elements of this with the associated decision making. By doing so they raise the status of others in the team, pass over responsibility and provide more independence and autonomy. (Interestingly the more power that can be distributed to competent others, the more likely a team is to perform at a higher level). Leaders that entrust others with responsibility send two key messages:

  • You have the capability, experience and skills required
  • I trust you

Interesting and challenging work

By devolving power and delegating responsibility, work tasks become more challenging. The mandate for leaders is to empower others by passing on big tasks and important projects. Get into the habit of asking what aspects of a problem or project are really essential to cover, versus what can be delegated away to others then take some personal risks and ‘let go’.

Remember however, that entrusting people with responsibility and providing challenging work has inherent risks and does not always lead to perfect results... Tasks may not get completed to the usual standards at first so it takes trust from both sides to resist laying blame and consider miss-takes as learning opportunities. “Coach” rather than criticise.

Positive working relationships

To empower successfully there must be a safe two way relationship. Trust is built over time as a result of consistent experiences that foster support and integrity, so for empowerment to work team members need to be free from fear and ridicule. The emphasis should be on “what can we learn”, not “who is to blame”. When delegated undertakings are delivered upon, both sides develop faith that other tasks will be in safe hands again in the future. True empowerment is a long game and calls for tolerance and the development of others.

Communication and Feedback

Open lines of communication are vital to handing over responsibility and staying in touch (delegating rather than abandoning). If feedback is sought and provided this cannot help but create healthier environments and foster a climate where team members have greater confidence to take ownership of their jobs. So when people go above and beyond the call of duty – let them know that you appreciate it and thank them genuinely to reinforce that behaviour.

Creating the Environment

Consistently providing feedback, autonomy and challenging work helps establish an environment in which discretionary effort is more likely to be given. Ironically such initiatives are largely discretionary themselves - and take time and effort. But they may be the most significant investments that we can make as a Leader.

Article written by John Richmond from Team Management Services (TMS)

Team Management Services specialise in providing facilitated workshops to develop Strategy, Leadership and Teamwork. Our programmes are designed to provide managers with simple, practical, easy to implement tools and real workplace feedback. Our West Auckland based business has over 25 years experience in this sector and work with small business through to multinational corporate organisations. We deliver content where required throughout NZ, Australia, USA, UK, Europe, SE Asia and the Pacific Islands.

Feel free to contact us if you want to know more about how we can support your enterprise. Tel (09) 836 5317