He Who Gets the Most Discretionary Effort WINS!

David DiMartile

He Who Gets the Most Discretionary Effort WINS!

He Who Gets the Most Discretionary Effort Wins!


In any business that is interested in growing, expanding and or just staying ahead of the competition the leadership needs employees to be engaged to help drive their business objectives. Not new news! But let’s take a deeper look at engagement and understand the underpinnings. First off, there has to be an environment of “trust” not just with the leader but with the total management team. Employees need to know that the leadership “has their back”. In other words they need to know that when decisions are made the interests of investors, customers AND employees will be considered and balanced and not one at the exclusion of the others.

When we look at the issue of trust we see that as a condition of employees entrusting the CEO and the leadership team employees must first respect them and be willing to be vulnerable to what the leadership is entrusted to do. The greatest indicator of whether trust will exist with your employees is their past experiences when they trusted you and the outcome. If the past experience was positive then employees will likely trust that you will do what you commit to do. If their past experience was negative then employees will be reluctant to be vulnerable to your commitment. Once trust is broken (even if there are good business reasons for not delivering on a commitment) it will take a long time and several new positive experiences before employees will be willing to be vulnerable and to trust the CEO and leadership team.

Without trust in the leadership team, employees are more likely to withhold their discretionary effort. Discretionary Effort is the difference between what effort a person gives to stay out of trouble (or the minimum acceptable level of effort) and the effort the person is capable of giving based on their skill, knowledge and experience.

Discretionary doesn’t just happen. The leadership team must first demonstrate respect for employees and treat them as an important part of the business. The leadership team must learn and be willing to focus on those issues that are important to employees.  You can’t just demand or mandate that employees give you more discretionary effort (we’ll you can but you probably won’t like the result). Discretionary effort follows from building a trusting, caring relationship with your employees. Discretionary effort is invisible, optional and will vary from individual to individual and discretionary effort follows engagement.

We know from our research that everything we do related to employee engagement and our relationship with employees comes back to the single powerful concept of discretionary effort. When we talk about employee engagement we are really talking about the CEO and the leadership teams’ ability to create the right kind of work environment where employees freely give their ideas and opinions as well as demonstrate care for the customer, pride and a sense of ownership for the resources of the business.

As CEO or a member of the leadership team you need to be concerned with whether your employees are engaged. The more engaged employees are the greater the amount of discretionary effort they will give. In addition to creating the environment for employee engagement leaders also need to focus on channeling that effort into initiatives or challenges that are important to the business. Engaged employees are the greatest differentiator amongst competitors.

My belief is that the company that gets the greatest amount of discretionary effort and effectively channels that effort into business priorities and challenges ``wins``!