Boosting discretionary effort

We like to think we’re great leaders and role models who bring out the best in our people, by providing clear direction, motivation, and support.

I recall a conversation with a team leader in a large organisation who was really disturbed by his line manager’s management style. The team leader said ‘He’s on his way up the career ladder…so I’ll just fly under the radar until he moves on. I’ll do what I need to do, nothing more and nothing less. If I stay in the middle of the pack, I won’t stand out and he’ll focus on the others.’

Sadly, the team leader looked like a solid performer; meeting budgets and performance outcomes. However, his manager was not bringing out the best in him. He was unknowingly curtailing performance.

Is that happening in your organisation?

Discretionary effort is a choice your staff make to provide additional effort. The often dubbed “father of performance management”, Aubrey Daniels, says discretionary effort is like loose change in employees’ pockets. It is management’s job to get them to want to spend it all every day.

How can we engage team members so they are keen to spend that ‘loose change’?

The answer is simple but not easy. Lead as a coach rather than a commander.  

There are a set of tools I give leaders that are essentially a methodical way of providing ‘positive reinforcement’ in the right way, at the right time, for the right behavior.

Positive reinforcement, in this context, is not simply random acts like a pat on the back or ‘keep up the good work’ comments. It’s also not annual bonuses or employee of the month awards.

Leaders can learn to continually pinpoint and reinforce behaviours in their staff that lead to desired performance outcomes.

Check the radar! 

First published in Fairfax Media 8th January 2019

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