I was chatting with a few long time acquaintances recently who are all senior managers in a mid-size North America wide corporation.
Their average tenure in the company was twenty-three years and for two of the five this was the only company in which they had ever worked.
As their company had recently been acquired by a large, international competitor the conversation inevitably turned to life as it is compared to life as it was.
As we had all worked together on a project several years ago I had been invited to join them during this rare reunion that had brought all of them into the same city at the same time and as I listened I got the distinct impression that in their view, life as it used to be was distinctly better than life as it’s gotten to be.
Life as it used to be was filled with exciting days filled with challenge, opportunity and the excitement of working together, to convert a shared vision into a productive reality.
They talked fondly of the “good old days” when they happily and willingly showed up in their offices before six o’clock in the morning, and frequently, reluctantly, dragged themselves back home late in the evening.
They reminisced about how they had felt so committed to this organisation, to all the good it was doing in the world, and to the belief, that as good as today was, tomorrow was always going to be better.
But all that had changed now.
Under the new regime, things had become very, very different.
The new management had brought with them something that they constantly referred to as “singularity of focus”. This meant, as they explained, that one thing, and only one thing, mattered from here on in and that one thing was called “the bottom line.”
Nothing else mattered. All that was important was for everyone to commit themselves to examine every opportunity, to leave no stone unturned, in the relentless search for reducing costs. And when they were not focusing on pursuing that noble cause, they were to spend every moment of their time seeking for ways of increasing revenue.
Whatever always been a people centric organisation that made lots of money was now to become a money centric organisation where people were simply the means to that end.
“We are here for one thing and one thing only,” they were reminded by their new bosses, “and that is to boost profits. Period. It’s all about money. There is no other reason for any of us to come to work.”
And with that pronouncement, which had been delivered on day one, everything had become different.
And the biggest difference of all was the way in which these five colleagues of mine had changed in their commitment to their careers and their company.
They are professionals. They will continue to do everything that is asked and expected of them.
They will continue to ensure that their direct reports do all that is expected of them, and that the process of ensuring that work performance standards would be met at all levels of the organisation.
That is all they are going to do.
No more 6 am arrivals at work, because they want to be there.
No more burning the midnight oil.
They will do everything that is expected of them and do nothing that is not.
They will no longer provide that one thing that all companies require in order to become great organisations, and that one thing is called Discretionary Effort.
Discretionary Effort is defined as being performance that is delivered with absolutely no expectation of reward, and no fear of reprisal, reprimand, or any negative consequences if it is not delivered.
We often refer to it as “above and beyond” or “going the extra mile” and this is something without which no organisation will ever achieve greatness.
Discretionary effort is delivered by people, not because they have to, but because they want to do it do it; because they have “fire in the belly”. They have an abundance of caring, commitment, dedication, conviction, loyalty, and all the other attributes that are so crucial in motivating people to deliver at their highest levels.
And when you kill passion, stifle creativity, and eliminate desire you have taken the first steps on the pathway to mediocrity.
Exactly where my five colleagues now found themselves.
Remember, we have spoken so many times in this blog, about the simple fact that we only ever do one thing. We do what is important to us in the moment. That’s it. That’s all we do. That’s all we will ever do.
And as our determination of importance changes, so do our behaviours.
Which is exactly what happened to my five colleagues.
In the past, under the old management group, it was vitally important to each of them to be involved in helping the company achieve its greatest potential.
And because that was important to them, they willingly gave of themselves in any way that they could to help the company realised that those goals.
And today, what is important to them has changed. It is now important to them to only deliver what is expected of them, and they are no longer willing to give any more to the company. The maximum, they will now deliver to the company has become the minimum is required to avoid drawing negative attention to themselves.
In other words, they had shifted from being willing employees to being grudging employees.
And so have many of their colleagues, and the people who report to them, and those who report to them. All the way down to the most junior levels of the organisation.
When we want something strongly, when we believe in something we will do much to help make it happen. We do not do it for the reward, we do not do it out of fear of reprisal, we do it because we believe in the cause, the reason, the mission.
And when Discretionary Effort leaves the building, it takes with it all of our reasons for being passionate and committed.
It’s what happens when the focus on the bottom line is so intense, and so singular that there is no effort made to direct any focus on those things that cause the bottom line to happen.
And tragically, too many companies fail to understand that if they just treat their people in ways that promote Discretionary Effort they would make more money than they could ever have imagined possible.
Allow me to explain how Discretionary Effort works in my life
I write a blog every week.
I do it with no expectation of reward.
Those expectations are regularly exceeded.
Till we read again.
P.S. We have broken the 2,000 mark. Yes, over 2,000 of you folks have now officially “signed up” to take the pledge we discussed in Blog 74 “No more judging. Now what am I supposed to do?”
Thank you! Is it a terrific achievement, and I appreciate your help in reaching that milestone. Now let’s work together and see we can take that number to 5,000.
That would be amazing, wouldn’t it?
P.P.S. P.S. My book Life Sinks or Soars – the choice is yours is continuing to sell really well and every week I receive e-mails from people writing to tell me how much the book has positively impacted their lives.
If you would like to order the book you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can click here to purchase it through Self Connection.