Bigger Sticks or Sweeter Carrots!

Bigger Sticks or Sweeter Carrots!

March 11, 2024

This is the conundrum facing many leaders over the past 12 months as they grapple with managing performance. Having lost a direct line of sight of their people, it has presented many opportunities and challenges. The cracks that existed in teams pre-Covid have been magnified. If we are to look at software sales as an indicator, we can see that there is a 57% increase in spend on collaboration tools and a 16% increase in productivity tracking software. Nothing says trust like your boss spying on your activity on a daily basis. The underlying dialogue here is; How do I know they are not sitting at home watching Netflix or porn?

A more useful question needs to be.

How can I create the conditions for discretionary performance to flourish?

Discretionary performance (effort) is the effort that a person chooses to give which is above the minimum requirement for their role.

Quite simply, this is the stuff that a person does that they don’t necessarily have to, but choose to. In any high performing team, or organisation, this is common place. In most low performing teams and cultures this is as rare as good Guinness in America. Your goal as a leader should be to create an environment that enables this. Before you get confused, let us not mistake this as a weapon for squeezing more working hours out of your people. It is about people going that extra mile to solve a problem, pursue a specific objective, help a customer, or reach a goal because they see value in doing so. Before I look forward, let us first look back.

The world of work has shifted a lot since the glory days of Taylorism. Frederick Winslow Taylor believed that every task could be broken down into a specialised repeatable manner and the workers were merely the mechanism of implementation. The residue of this still remains with some managers. Thankfully most modern business/sporting environments have shifted away from this. The sweet spot is now a mix of tactical performance (executing against a plan) and adaptive performance (being able to diverge from the plan when necessary.) The latter is strongly linked to discretionary effort. The value of such an approach can vary from industry to industry. We generally don’t want our air traffic controllers to deviate from the plan too often. For athletes, software engineers, or sales people this may be an essential component.

What then makes some individuals and teams go above and beyond, whilst others just do enough to keep their job. There are many trails of thought on this, but here are a few that I have come across through my own personal experiences of working and playing in team environments, my research and coaching clients for over a decade in this area.

A clear vision – what they are doing right now is leading to a more compelling place in the future

Autonomy – they are given the scope to figure out how the work is done once the what/when/where is agreed.

Strong connection – being part of a cohesive and connected team unit helps to create a bond that makes people want to do more

Play and mastery – the reward is in the work. The chance to deliver great work is a massive intrinsic driver for people. Creating the spec and environment where this is most likely to occur is one of your primary tasks as a leader

Recognition – if you are using money as the sole sweet carrot then it will go stale quite fast. You will generate a mind-set of “Pay me and I’ll do it” which is the reverse of discretionary effort. Recognition comes in many forms so leverage this wisely based on the people in front of you.

Feedback and Mentoring – Create an environment where learning is the foundation. People strive to get better and are actively supported in their endeavours through regular and detailed feedback and coaching. Find the “coachable moments” where learning is the primary focus and the results will take care of themselves.

Modelling Behaviour – Your micro culture should reflect the behaviours and standards you want to be the norm. This needs to be active and not just some BS statement or charter that everyone does the opposite to in reality. Like any new behaviour, what gets recognised and rewarded gets repeated. (good and bad)

Knowing how you currently operate is the first step here. Once you know this you can look at how you can begin to create an environment that encourages discretionary effort and bridge the gap in key areas. You should be looking to identify what needs to be in place, where are the key pain points for people right now, what resources and supports do they need and how can we start to build an environment where people want to do truly great work. As with any area I research, I am usually left with as many questions as answers. So, I will leave you with this one and if you have any answers from your experiences, I am all ears.

What are the reasons people choose to do more than is expected of them?

Cheers for reading