Bob Sutton is a certified provider of The Accountability Experience and wrote this timely and practical post directly from his consulting work on a concept we can all use immediately…discretionary effort. Enjoy!

by Bob Sutton

Each day we make hundreds of choices. Most are semi-conscious or automatic based in solid reasoning and logic. We put on our seat belt, say “I love you” to someone, stop at red lights, eat, drink, and do our jobs as we always have, based on successful outcomes or habit. These are all actions in our “discretionary effort” bucket.

Fork in the Road

Highly engaged and accountable employees use their discretionary effort more effectively. Every workplace choice from how well a floor is swept, whether to stay up late and finish a project, to creating a better working relationship with a co-worker is based in the application of discretionary effort.

One of my clients has experienced a much better relationship with her COO. This transformation happened because, as a division head, she was willing to be 100% accountable for making the relationship better regardless of whether or not the COO was. She was working her discretionary effort for a better outcome.

We developed a few simple strategies based in her full ownership and accountability. This meant she would take certain actions to create a better relationship with no expectation for change initially.  She employed the strategies and persisted. And as a result,  created a better, clearly productive, working relationship.

The improvement is still at work two years later. She believes that the change was due to her taking full ownership. Without full ownership and the willingness to work toward a better outcome, all the strategies and tactics would not have worked. She had to own it.

How do you get an employee to be more engaged and accountable — to use their discretionary effort more effectively?

  • Provide a perspective of accountability that is realistic, positive and useful.

  • You can learn how to talk the language of being fully accountable.

  • Recognize when discretionary effort is being used effectively or not, and talk to employees about it.

  • Set clear expectations through clear agreements (for both simple and complex actions).

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