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Discretionary Effort vs. Aligned Employees

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Alignment is essential. But alignment without discretionary effort is just well-directed mediocrity.  Leadership needs to concentrate on three key issues:

Focus (alignment and vision)
Capability (skills and resources)
Will (desire, discretionary effort)

In a scenario where a “go-getter employee” is focused on the wrong objective, a situation I have seen in client organizations, the “fault,” if you will, is not with the employee, but rather the leadership. It is the primary job of leadership to provide a clear (and hopefully compelling) focus. Another point – if an employee is volunteering their discretionary effort (they are truly engaged) – then  they will welcome a better alignment with the company’s goals. We know, for example, that highly engaged employees are more adaptable and they tend to see more of the Big Picture. They are willing to make course corrections.

Secondly, I would much rather have a company full of unaligned employees giving discretionary effort than a company full of employees just doing whatever it takes to get by, but well aligned. Why? Because alignment is a cognitive exercise, relatively easy to describe and to set up the tactical steps to make it happen. Discretionary effort, on the other hand, is an emotional process and it is much more difficult/challenging to build and sustain the conditions that allow it to flourish.

BEST PRACTICES TIP:  Be wary of engagement “fixes” that are purely tactical and cognitive.  The emotional and social context is key.

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Don Rheem’s presentation on Employee Engagement gets underneath the real “whys” on the behavior of discretionary effort. I found his examples to be relative and understandable. I see how our leaders are making better connections with the hearts of our people, so everyone better understands the goals of the enterprise.

--Peter Rittenhouse, Director of Supply Chain
Nestle Waters
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