BoilingPointWith the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia behind us, I am reminded of how very narrow the margin of victory really is. Tenths and hundreds of a second can mean the difference between Gold, Silver, Bronze, or no medal at all.  Literally, the blink of an eye is the difference between the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat! 

In the book; 212: The Extra Degree by Sam Parks and Mac Anderson, it illustrates how water at 211 degrees is just hot water , but once the temperature reaches 212 degrees it becomes boiling water creating steam and steam is the energy that can power a locomotive. How much more effective can our employees be if we can tap into their engagement in very small but important degrees?

In a similar fashion, one “extra degree” of discretionary effort from your employees can make the difference between success and failure in your business transactions.  So what is DE?  I believe Discretionary Effort (DE) is the difference between the level of effort one is capable of bringing to an activity or a task, and the effort required only to get by or make do.  According to Jason Lauritsen of Talent Anarchy (2012), “companies hire people with the expectation that they will be committed to the organization and their job that they will do their best, that they will do what is asked of them to help the company succeed.”  But in reality, people do not always perform their best for a number of reasons.  In some cases employees might even purposefully withhold DE because they feel they are being taken advantage of by the company or by their manager and they withhold DE in order to gain an even footing.  They become disengaged, or I like to refer to this as performing with “malicious obedience.”  They work at or slightly below the acceptable performance norm.  When this occurs the effects can be devastating to any company; making the difference between a satisfied or unsatisfied customer; between a pleased share holder or investor and one that no longer believes they are making a good investment; or between revenue growth, revenue stagnation or worse yet a revenue loss.

Although there are many ways to obtain a “one degree” differential in business performance or output, for the purpose of this discussion let’s think of it in terms of the effort employees take in their daily performance in their jobs and how important that can be in defining success or failure in terms that are meaningful to your business.

How many times do employees deal with “moments of truth” as termed by Jan Carlson or those key opportunities where the direction of their actions can go in one way or another as they perform routine functions?  Is it important to companies while putting widgets on a larger part in a manufacturing environment?  Processing a transaction for a bank customer, or taking your order in the drive through (ever get home and those fries are not in the bag)?  How about while making a call to your cellular provider to get an explanation of the monthly statement?  The point here is that employees really do control what happens hundreds of times daily more than you, as their manager do and, like it or not, they are huge influencers in the output of a process or service.  As much as you would like to, you cannot be everywhere all the time and personally oversee the actions they take or all the decisions they make.

Well, of course everyone knows that already, so what is the big deal?  The big deal is that so many companies overlook this simple axiom while it takes a back seat to EPS, mergers and acquisitions, downsizings, stock prices, etc.  It is overlooked many times and never gets much attention until something goes wrong and at that point we are more interested in the blame game.  The customer complaint, the increase of scrape, the dropped customer calls and the lost customer are all results of employees not feeling that they should or can control the situation because they are not engaged.  And to make matters worse, it is reported that seventy percent of the country’s 100 million full-time workers are either not engaged or are actively disengaged. Lots of missed “moments of truth” here.  I think you get the point.

Are you able to take advantage of your employee’s moments of truth? How does DE discretionary effort connect to employee engagement and why is that important?   Next week, we’ll take a deeper look at DE and how you can harness it in your organization.  If you want to learn more contact me at or give me a call at 901-850-8190.

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