Discretionary Effort is Theft

The holy grail of employee engagement. Get better at it and what do you get? More discretionary effort from your staff. Get better and better at employee engagement and you get more and more discretionary effort.

Work Life Balance

Except…the last time I looked we only have 24 hours in any one day, and we can only function productively and meaningfully for so long. So for employees to give more of that discretionary effort to their employer, well that means they have less to give to themselves, their family and their friends. and that doesn’t sound much like a balance to me.

Unpaid Overtime

How much is enough? Workers in the UK already work among the longest hours in Europe. And according to the TUC, around five million UK workers contribute over seven hours extra a week without pay. They estimate that to be worth upwards of £4,500 ($7,200) a year in extra pay.

If employers are really serious about engaging, then more consideration should be applied to binning bonuses and distributing some of that pot and the savings that come from no longer having to frig the figures, sorry I mean administer the bonus scheme, as an increase in pay. And perhaps overlay an across the company flat rate profit share scheme to distribute part of the extra benefit gained from better work?

Acceptable Discretionary Effort

So if there are only 24 hours in a day, and we’re already working long hours and making unpaid contributions already, is there a case for acceptable discretionary effort? Perhaps there is. Let’s say your team has a major project to deliver within a certain time, and things are tight. If you work for an employer who already treats you right then perhaps being asked for a burst of extra effort to get something specific done is fine, so long as a) we can be clear on how much extra we think is needed and b) for how long. If discretionary effort becomes any more of an expectation that that, then it’s not discretionary effort, it’s theft.

photo credit

Bad behaviour rocks!

Some of you know I run a little group over in LinkedIn land called ‘Is Bad Behaviour Killing Big Business‘. Julia Briggs joined the group just recently and in response to the group title she offered this:

‘Ah, but I love bad behaviour……because for independent consultants and ‘baby’ entrepreneurs like me it gives us huge opportunities.

Every time a recruitment agency hacks off a client or a candidate that’s another reason why my business venture will make it. And as an interim, every time a client does something jawdroppingly ‘stupid’ they needed someone like me to come in and sort it out.

So, I do hope we get to celebrate bad behaviour in this group and turn it into opportunities. For those of you in the IIM group you may have seen what was a spectacularly bad tempered and very dumb thread where members criticised a potential client’s opinion of interims……no thought of engaging with the potential client, or taking on board what he said (feedback is a gift)……and every time this happens I just thank my lucky stars.’

To which Jonathan Wilson replied:

‘So… bad behaviour may be killing big business by inspiring new business. Creative self-destruction where capitalism meets Marxism in Schumpeter’s neo-liberalism. Heady stuff full of opportunities for caring opportunists. Great stuff!’

And Ian Sutherland added:

‘There seems to be something here about conscious and unconscious behaviour. To me Doug’s point is often about bad behaviour being unconscious and then breeding further bad behaviour and indeed vindicating it.

Julia’s optimisim (and I do believe that every challenge presents an opportunity if you have the right mindset) is based on recognising bad behaviour and trying to do something about. Business these days especially big business (and previously successful business) has a huge organisational inertia. My guess is that in 90% of the cases that is just fixing the immediate mess (I’m a manager get me out of here!), but every now and then there will be a real desire to make things different and better.

Being conscious that it is bad behaviour is the start.’

And back to Jonathan again:

‘Very much so, Ian, and it raises interesting questions about the different perspectives of the self-employed (like most of us) and the employed. People express their real values very much more by their actions than by their words and the fit between them says most of all.

I don’t think anyone goes to work to do bad things, or to do things badly, but they will do things and allow things that they do not really believe are good things to do because they want:

to stay employed (for the money or the security or the company)

to avoid conflict or embarrassment with their boss or in front of their peers.

(I know from other research that intelligent, skilled people would rather risk death than embarrassment and have died as a result, taking hundreds more with them)

As businesses get bigger and older (a key transition is with the departure or death of the founders so the firm becomes entirely run by agents) it becomes less clear what they stand for and they lose the guiding light, “What would [the founder] do?”.

When firms become publicly owned the managers simplify (simplisticise?) the aim of the company as being to make money, because money is the most obvious (though often erroneous) abstraction of the concept of value. And because we delegate the management of the owning of shares to other agents (fund managers, insurance companies, pension funds) and they want to show they are doing a good job the focus on money and apparent profit is intensified and made even more short term. One year is a ridiculously short time to assess a company or a strategy, but public companies are made to report and be judged on their financial results every three months. This affects their behaviour quite negatively. When in order to incentivise them, senior managers are given bonuses (just for doing the job) based on that financial performance the perversion becomes destructive.

As you say , Ian, big companies do have immense inertia from their physical presence, established customer base, license to operate and their brand. And so some of their employees, up to and including the CEO, sometimes tend to tend undervalue that and take it for granted, even appearing to believe that they have an eternal right to do what they do. This then leads to the arrogance and complacency that eventually brings them down, but it is usually a long, slow corrosive process leading to an apparently sudden, shocking collapse.’

I love where this conversation is going, so much so I wanted to share it beyond the group. Thanks to Julia, Jonathan and Ian for giving me (and I hope now you) lots of food for thought. I’d love to know what you think about some of the points raised here.