Discretionary effort can make the difference between a great team, and an extraordinary team — but what does it take to inspire and support that effort?
It's not easy, but it's not highly complicated either. A large part of both the challenge and the opportunity lies in the design of your working environment.
Although the physical environment your team works in is important, perhaps the more important and impactful environmental factor is how their work (and their workplace) makes them feel.
Here are some simple things you can do to help provide that environment, and support their efforts.
1. Give them a reason
You can't expect someone to commit themselves to expending an extraordinary effort if they don't have a good reason to do that.
So what kind of reason can you provide that's compelling enough?
One of the most common methods organizations use to achieve this is pay (for example, a performance bonus for exceeding a quota). Their reason for going the extra mile is directly tied to the amount of monetary compensation they'll receive in return.
The biggest problem with this approach is that it only lasts as long as the pay continues, and the incentive is only as large as the monetary compensation.
A more sustainable approach is to illuminate the greater purpose behind the work being done. If someone has an intrinsic drive to achieve or exceed their objectives, it's going to be much easier to inspire the discretionary effort required to do that.
2. Provide the necessary tools, assets, and support
You want your team to give that extra effort, but it's just as important to provide the elements necessary to maximize the results of that effort.
Your team can either:
- Exert extraordinary effort toward overcoming their lack of tooling, or any number of other progress blockers in order to reach a point of acceptable productivity, or
- Exert extraordinary effort toward pushing their team and the organization forward.
They can't do both, so if you want that extra effort to mean something, it's crucial to clear a path.
3. Give them room
One of the easiest ways to motivate an employee to go above and beyond expectations is to give them the autonomy they need to set their own expectations, which may exceed your own.
The most you can ever expect to get with a command-and-control mentality is exactly what you ask for. Employees who are given more control over how they approach their work often find a better way to do it.
This doesn't mean a completely hands-off approach is best; it's still crucial that you're there to provide the support they need. The key is achieving a balance between providing support when it's needed, but staying out of the way of progress.
4. Show appreciation
If an employee puts forth an extraordinary effort, and that effort isn't recognized or appreciated, don't expect a string of repeat performances.
Imagine getting the exact same response (i.e., none) for making a major contribution that you would for barely meeting expectations. What's in it for you if you do put in that extra effort?
By showing appreciation and recognizing that discretionary effort, you're providing crucial validation for that effort, and encouraging similar efforts in the future.
In addition to providing that validation, you're making it clear to others that discretionary effort is valued in your organization.
Don't stop with yourself or the leadership team though.
One of the easiest ways to ensure that exceptional contributions are recognized and rewarded is to empower and encourage everyone on the team to show their appreciation for the work of their peers.
5. Encourage collaboration and camaraderie
In their Employee Engagement and Organizational Culture Report, our friends at TINYpulse found peers and camaraderie to be the #1 reason employees go the extra mile at work.
You can harness this innate characteristic by encouraging frequent collaboration and teamwork. When there are other peer stakeholders involved, it's much more likely for employees to put that extra effort into a project or initiative.
Find projects and other activities to bring your team closer as individuals, and illustrate the impact each member's contributions have on the group.
6. Be consistent
It's a good step in the right direction, but not nearly enough to do any of this on a one-off basis.
Consistency is a major key to successfully inspiring discretionary effort, because it helps to set a realistic expectation around the results of expending that extra effort.
Don't design one group project, or thank someone for their hard work once. If you want to see consistent positive results, you need to provide the same level of consistency.
7. Stay positive
You're going to have a hard time inspiring extraordinary effort with an iron fist or a bad temper.
Negative reinforcement will generally only incentivize someone to do just enough to avoid further negative reinforcement.
Increased discretionary effort can have a considerable impact on the trajectory of your organization, no matter what size or industry. If you're having trouble inspiring it, start with these quick tips.
When you're ready to take the next step toward inspiring your team to do their best work every day, check out our latest guide: