Employee Engagement Leadership Motivation Organisational Culture Teamwork Values and Behaviours

Leveraging the drivers of discretionary effort – six key things to consider

My last blog was a case study on the drivers of discretionary effort. In this post I want to talk about how to leverage those drivers.

Before we begin, read my last post here.

1 – Create a clear and compelling purpose. As we saw from the case study, this needs to be simple and constantly reinforced. Your purpose should be alive in your business and provide clear direction. Disney’s core purpose is simply “we are in the happiness business”.  To find your purpose, first define what you do, then ask “why”? Keep asking “why” until you uncover your core purpose, or reason for being.  A business I am working with came up with “helping people be the best they can be”. Simple, heartfelt and compelling.

2 – Create clear roles, clear delegations and ownership. People need to know what their boundaries are. It is inefficient if people are doubling up or things are slipping through the cracks because it is nobody’s job.  Set people the challenge and allow them the space to figure out how to do it – micro managing kills discretionary effort fast.  If your people are skilled all you should need to do is to keep communicating the big picture and they will take care of the details. Find out what people are good at and provide opportunities for them to use their skills. If your processes and systems are inhibiting, rather than enhancing effectiveness they should be reviewed.

3 – Create clear goals and prioritise! Something that I see frequently in businesses is the “twenty priority number ones” syndrome. Businesses may have 10, 15 or even 20 key strategies, but can’t articulate priorities. People say “we have 20 priority number ones, we are trying to schedule our work and resource the projects, but when we ask which is the top priority, they all are”! People end up confused, struggling and demotivated. Senior leaders should be able to answer the question “Of this list of strategic initiatives, if you only had the resources and time to do five things, what would they be? “What if it was only three? Or one”? It isn’t saying that all the other things are not important, but it creates clarity about what is most important and allows people to focus their efforts.

4 – Communicate effectively. Once of the key things that I heard from the business in my case study was they held conversations not briefings. That was what made their communication truly effective and it is a huge learning – create conversations.

5 – Show people how what they do is making a difference. People want to be part of something important, something that has meaning. In the business in my case study one group said “we stopped doing all the mundane stuff”, but when we drilled down further it turned out the mundane stuff was still being done, but it was linked to the clear purpose and that gave it meaning. Once it had meaning and was making a difference, it suddenly didn’t seem mundane any more. Isn’t that interesting? Link people’s work to strategy and purpose, show them the direct line of sight between what they do (even the mundane stuff) and the big picture. I am reminded of that old story about the cleaner at NASA who, when asked what he did, said “I am helping put a man on the moon”.

6 – The 3 “R”s of behavior change. Reward, Recognise and Role model the behaviours and results you want. If you want something repeated, reward it. What you pay attention to is what gets done.

And the business in my case study? They are focusing on three actions:

  • Sharing and discussing the learnings across the business, both to confirm them and to identify any other positive behaviour that might be useful.
  • Identifying the people who really stepped up into informal leadership roles during the crisis and developing their potential.
  • Adding clear purpose and context to everything they do – “why this is important and how it contributes”.

Rosalind Cardinal is the Principal Consultant of Shaping Change, a Hobart based consultancy, specialising in improving business outcomes by developing individuals, teams and organisations.

Ros is a solutions and results oriented facilitator and coach, with a career in the Human Resources and Organisational Development field spanning more than 20 years.  Ros’ expertise spans leadership development, organisational culture, team building, change and transition management, organisational behaviour, employee engagement and motivation, strategic direction and management.


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