By: Charlie Martin, Founder, engagementtoolbox.com
Discretionary contribution is the difference between employees, at any level in the company, coming to work and doing what is expected versus the employees who come to work every day energized and looking for an opportunity to make a difference.
Assuming you are fully engaged in your business or job, this second group of employees feels the same way you do about the challenges and opportunities at work. Occasionally you are fortunate enough to have an employee, or perhaps a few employees that are in this group just because that is the way there are wired unless you have done something to turn off their positive energy. In normal circumstances it is up to you to create the opportunity for your workforce to give their discretionary contribution.
Discretionary contribution is the secret sauce that no competitor can duplicate.
It is a major market differentiator. Businesses are collections of people. It’s not about the business model, the technology, pricing etc., it’s about the people who invent, design and deliver on whatever the business is designed to do. We just lost Steve Jobs and there is no doubt about his contribution. So in this case is it the Apple Products or Steve Jobs and the team he has created who design, invent and deliver on the Apple promise. Is there an Apple culture and if so who created and maintains it? What about Southwest Airlines? They are in an industry that has historically been unproductive and at best marginally profitable from time to time. Somehow in this mess Southwest has managed to stay profitable and create a reputation for excellence. How have they done it? Are they getting more discretionary contribution than the other airlines and if so how? Southwest decided long ago that in a service driven business like the airline business it’s all about the people. They have spent and continue to spend a great deal of time assuring that the culture they created when the airline started is maintained. This process starts with who they hire, how they train, how they reward and treat team members, the language they use to communicate within the company and on and on. Bottom line (that is what it is about) they decided that people were key early on and never lost sight of that fact and continue to invest heavily in maintaining that culture. If you were able to look closely inside Southwest you would find that tit is the discretionary contribution by employees within Southwest at all levels that continues to drive their success.
How do you get discretionary contribution?
The surface answer to this question is simple and the actual implementation is a bit more challenging. As a business owner, executive, manager, if you want to have the benefits of an engaged workforce giving you their discretionary contribution you will want to think about some of the following:
- Do you believe that your people are your most valuable asset?
- Do you believe in general that your employees want to make a difference and have the capability to do so, given the opportunity?
- Are you willing to share the information necessary to give them the opportunity to be engaged and give their discretionary contribution?
- If you want their full engagement they have to know what they are engaged in and why they should give their discretionary contribution. Your mission, vision, values, strategy and company goals would be a good start, followed by sharing financial results.
- Are they clear about what is expected of them and how they can make the best contribution and how what they do on a daily basis relates to the overall company goals?
- Do they always understand how they are doing and what contribution they are making? What’s in it for them (WIIFM), if the company wins do they win?
- Are they recognized/thanked frequently and correctly? Are they able to learn and grow their capabilities, take on more responsibility etc.? Do they have all the tools they need to succeed, including the necessary information and clarity?
- Do they understand that you care about them as a person as opposed to an FTE, headcount, human resource?
Think about whether you really believe that the discretionary contribution of your team can be a market differentiator for you? If you believe it can start taking the steps necessary to get you there.
About the Author:
Charlie Martin is the Founder and Head Coach of engagementtoolbox (http://.www.engagementtoolbox.com) Charlie is the author of The Tools of Engagement, a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) certified by the International Coach Federation and a seasoned leader with over 35 years of experience in a variety of senior level positions in a variety of industries. He can be reached at Charlie@engagementtoolbox.com