When the members of your team are in-sync and giving their best effort, they’re not too difficult to manage. If you’ve been leading a team for a while, though, then you know that this type of harmony isn’t always so easy to come by. Employees give their maximum effort when they feel engaged and inspired in their work. A popular new metric for this is called “discretionary effort.” Unfortunately, employee engagement is at an all-time low. Consider these statistics (source):
- 85% of employees worldwide are not actively engaged in their work.
- 17% of employees are actively disengaged in their work.
Managers cannot take their employees’ effort for granted and assume they’ll feel engaged and inspired every day they come into work. The question is: how can leaders inspire their employees to work to their full potential?
Of course, monetary incentives like pay raises and bonuses are one way to motivate employees to work harder. But, inspiring discretionary effort requires more sustainable tactics — things you can do every single day as a manager to inspire and motivate your team. Today’s blog post offers some key tips to inspire discretionary effort that you can implement today!
What is discretionary effort?
Discretionary effort refers to a level of effort an employee is capable of giving, but one that exceeds the bare minimum that’s required of them. Let’s illustrate this concept with an example:
You manage a team of content creators who are responsible for creating a number of assets every month. One of your team members is responsible for writing six blog posts a month. That employee meets this requirement consistently but is clearly capable of doing more. They don’t produce more work than is expected of them, nor do they use their creativity to take their content in any new or interesting directions. They simply follow the formula and hit their goals.
Another writer on your team has the exact same goal — six blog posts a month. Except, this employee doesn’t stop once they’ve hit their goals. During some months, they’ll produce more content than is expected of them. During others, they’ll come forward with an outside-the-box idea or creative way to improve the team’s strategy. They constantly lend a helping hand to other team members and even other departments.
In the above example, both employees are fulfilling the requirements of their role. But the second employee is showcasing discretionary effort and going above and beyond to benefit their organization.
7 Ways to Inspire Discretionary Effort in Your Team
Before we get into our tips, let’s first dispel a popular myth about employee effort. Many managers believe employees who give discretionary effort are hard-working, and employees who don’t are lazy.
This statement is simply untrue, and undersells the responsibility of team leaders and managers to inspire their team to want to give discretionary effort. The following methods will help you do just that:
1. Get to know your team members.
When you ask yourself how much you know about your team members, what comes to mind? You know their names, job titles, and how long they’ve been around for, sure—but how much do you really know about them?
Team leaders often make the mistake of keeping their employees at too much of a distance. They say things like, “I’m their boss, not their friend.” But getting to know your team members doesn’t mean turning a professional relationship into a personal one — rather, it’s about building community, connection and, ultimately, trust. Small talk is not enough. What motivates them? What do they care about the most? What—at the end of the day—is the reason they get up in the morning?
Find time to connect with your team members as human beings, not just employees. Take your team to lunch and allow them to talk about everything but work. Check in with your team members to learn if they have any interesting, exciting developments happening in their own lives. Don’t cross the line and push your employees to divulge personal information if they don’t want to — but create an environment where they’re comfortable enough to connect with you and each other as people.
2. Adjust their roles to fit their unique skills and passions.
Once you familiarize yourself with the unique skill set that each team member brings to the table, you can better organize your team. What are the strengths and weaknesses of each team member? Does someone on your team have a valuable skill that’s not being utilized?
Perhaps an employee has a skill or passion that doesn’t align with their daily responsibilities. In this case, try to think of any side-projects you can include them in which might tap into their unfulfilled interests. Above all else, make sure your team members know that you recognize their unique strengths. Always leave the door open for them to discuss what they want out of their jobs and what you can do for them as a manager.
3. Remind them of their purpose.
Every person at your organization was hired for a reason. But after working in the same role for an extended period of time, it becomes easy to forget why the work is important.
Modern employees — particularly those of younger generations — increasingly want to feel a sense of purpose in their work. In fact, a recent survey of Millennial job candidates found that 74% want a job where they feel like their work matters (source).
For this reason, don’t just tell your team members why they matter; show them. If their efforts have tangible results, take the time to sit down and share those results with them. When they see the real impact they’re making, your employees will feel naturally incentivized to continue producing quality work and making a difference.
4. Equip your team with the right tools and resources.
Have you ever wanted to give your best effort, but felt like you didn’t have the tools you need to succeed? This is one of the most frustrating and demotivating feelings an employee can experience. As a manager, one of your foremost responsibilities is to equip your team with tools and resources to help make their jobs easier.
Here’s an example: a salesperson spends all day researching and looking for new prospects to sell to. She has to find each prospect’s contact information on her own, and the sources she consults often contain inaccurate or outdated data. As a result, she feels like she’s wasting a lot of time — so when she hits her quota, she considers herself lucky and doesn’t try to exceed expectations.
Now, imagine her organization equips the sales department with a data intelligence platform that gives them access to a robust database of high-quality, actionable information. Suddenly, the struggling salesperson is reaching prospects ten times as quickly. She feels reinvigorated and challenges herself to see just how much she can sell with this new tool at her disposal.
In the above example, there’s a financial benefit to providing an employee with a certain tool — they become more efficient and can produce results at a higher rate. But there’s also a morale benefit, as being given the right tools will motivate employees to reach their full potential.
5. Be mindful of their work-life balance.
Regardless of how naturally motivated your team might be, if you fail to stay attuned to their work-life balance, you risk losing their dedication over time. In today’s culture, companies praise employees who work long hours, are available at all times, and sacrifice their personal time whenever there’s an important task to accomplish at work.
But, studies show that a lack of work-life balance will only hurt most employees in the long run — both at home and at work. Consider the following statistics (source):
- When lacking a proper work-life balance, 60% of respondents experienced low morale at work.
- 36% reported a decline in productivity.
- 41% saw a lack of work-life balance result in high turnover rates at their company as well as burnout/fatigue.
Yes, employees who devote extra time to their work deserve praise. But don’t try to force a workaholic lifestyle on all of your employees. And when an employee appears to be overworked, burnt out, or losing focus, make sure they feel comfortable asking for some time off to recharge their batteries. It might inconvenience you in the short-term, but it’s worth the long-term effects of having built a devoted, happy, and productive team.
6. Lead with positivity.
A surprising number of team leaders not only refuse to lead with positivity, but actively lead with negativity. They try to inspire discretionary effort by withholding praise and using fear tactics to motivate their employees. This approach is unsustainable; you might “scare” your employees into working harder in the short-term, but they’ll quickly become disengaged, discouraged, and altogether unhappy.
The importance of commending your team members when they’re deserving of it cannot be underestimated, and neither can the importance of constructive criticism. If you consistently interact with your team in a way that shows you are paying attention to their work and that you want them to do well, they will be grateful to you for it, and likely adopt some of your positivity.
Final Thoughts About Inspiring Discretionary Effort In Your Team
As a team leader, your job is to oversee more than the results your team generates. You’re also responsible for monitoring their morale, their focus, and their overall happiness on a day-to-day basis. If you prioritize their well-being, the quality of the work will follow suit.
Remember this: all the methods we discussed above will only make a positive impact if you’re 100% authentic. Don’t try to help your team because you want them to work harder — help them because you care about them and want them to succeed. The more you show a genuine investment in their success, the more invested they’ll become.
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