In a leader’s desire for encouraging employee engagement, inspiring discretionary effort is the crown
jewel. The greatest company success stories can be traced to employees who went
above and beyond at work – to fine-tune the final product, to reimagine the
marketing strategy, to make one more cold call.
How can you inspire discretionary
effort in your employees, especially ones who might already care deeply?
The answer is a culmination of a few
foundational and complimentary practices. When each are executed well and consistently,
you can create the type of environment that inspires employees to give extra
1. The right people in the right places
It starts with having the right people in the right places at the right time.
people like what they are doing, they are generally good at it. When they
are good at their work, they, generally speaking, like what they are doing. It’s
a circle that feeds itself.
leader you first must ensure you have the right people doing the right
things. The right people in the right seat on the right train car. They
must be set up to succeed and feel secure in that.
they have to feel appreciated and valued. When they feel appreciated for
doing what they are good at and being successful at it then they go above and
beyond. They give you, willingly, discretionary effort.
feeds their soul. It is not “work” or drudgery. They don’t feel like, “I have
to go to work.” They get up saying, “I get to go to work.”
2. Build a culture of trust
Use your company values and mission as a foundation on which to build a culture that inspires discretionary effort.
leader you must have a vision and communicate that vision clearly and
often. You must connect the value of what people do to that vision.
gives them purpose and focus. It demonstrates to them how the work they do is
valued and makes a difference. Feeling valued for your contributions yields
clear expectations for what they are to produce and provide
meaningful feedback and guidance. Set those expectations together. Give
them a voice in how they deliver on those expectations.
them autonomy over managing their workday. At the end of the week ask, “Did
you accomplish what you set out to since we last spoke? Did you meet your
commitments to your clients? Tell me more about how you did that.”
takes a leader’s effort, commitment and time to create this
environment. It is simple. It is not easy.
3. Reward positive outcomes
Tie your expectations of the team to
could mean a simple high-five, and a “Good job!” Or your reward
might include more tangible things, like PTO days, gift cards, lunch out or
more responsibility. Recognizing those efforts gets more of the same.
You don’t have to spend big money to
appropriately recognize employee’s time, effort and results. Everyone is
different and appreciates recognition differently. Find out what would mean the
most to each person, and tailor you approach to the person and the situation.
Dangling presents in front of
employees might cause employees to work harder in the short run, but it’s not
sustainable or meaningful. Instead, rewards should be a genuine appreciation for the employee’s job
Everyone likes to be appreciated. You can find something to appreciate in everyone.
4. Remove roadblocks
barriers for them to do what is important to them and the business. Be
their advocate for finding and garnering valuable resources, tools and support.
can take the form of collaboration with peers too. Find time to work
collaboratively as a team and bond.
example, you and your team can meet to have coffee or tea and share what is
going on in their lives. This binds people in meaningful ways. As a result, people
can work more collaboratively and offer that discretionary effort that elevates
the team to achieve business goals.
5. Provide opportunities for growth
development opportunities for your employees to improve their
ways they are interested in and that elevate the business.
or adjust assignments and work responsibilities in ways that leverage what they
are good at. Provide development opportunities in which they can stretch their
skills and succeed.
6. Be the change you want to see
model what you want. You are the leader, and your team is always watching you.
If you bring your best — your best work; your most positive attitude; your best
listening skills, equanimity and above all your authentic, real self — they
sweep issues under the rug or avoid difficult
conversations. Give them the attention they are due.
successes and look for the glass half full always. Be the emotional
anchor. Be a model of stability and positive pragmatism.
Complete the circle
secret to inspiring discretionary effort is really to take care of your people.
employee is important. Give each of them the attention they deserve, and celebrate
their successes along the way. By taking care of your people, everything else
gets done. They will be inspired to willingly provide that discretionary
these together create a culture of trust in which employees can
thrive. This comes full circle back to feeling secure in an environment
where they are valued for what they contribute and can see how that value
drives the business in meaningful ways. That translates into more
discretionary effort. Again, simple, not easy.
providing discretionary effort is just one benefit of a strong company culture.
To learn more about how building a better work environment for your employees
can improve your business overall, download our free magazine: the
Insperity guide to company culture.