Archive | March, 2011

The Leader’s Primary Contribution: Discretionary Energy

I believe strongly that leaders and leaders-of-leaders (and quite a few of us consultants) are not clear enough with leaders about what we expect of them!

We too often confuse leaders by asking them to do MANY THINGS: set the vision, clarify strategy, define valued behaviors, set goals, meet one-on-one, listen, embrace followers’ great ideas, redirect when required, hold staff accountable, manage different personalities, etc. Whew! The list is a very long one.

I think it will be easier for leaders – and more actionable for them – to focus on ONE CORE IDEA that will set the context for the variety of activities they must do each day to serve that one core idea. That idea is this: Leaders, your ONLY valuable contribution to your organization is the creation of employee discretionary energy toward goals.

What is Discretionary Energy?

For our purposes, we define an employee’s discretionary energy as:

  1. Their willing application of knowledge and skills in service towards espoused strategy and goals, and
  2. Their demonstrated positive enthusiasm for their work, their team & its members, and their customers.

Discretionary energy is at play when an employee goes beyond the minimum. Sometimes discretionary energy is about innovation and creativity, but more often it is about jumping in before being asked, going beyond the basics to meet a need or solve a problem.

There are dozens, possibly even hundreds, of activities that a leader needs to manage. I’m not suggesting that those activities no longer require a leader’s attention! However, I do believe that a leader’s primary contribution – one that needs constant attention and monitoring – is the frequency of employee discretionary energy applied in the leader’s work environment.

Define the Playing Field

The “playing field” metaphor is intended to set the context for a leader’s activities and for a leader’s primary contribution (employee’s discretionary energy). A leader must set the stage by defining the playing field in which team members are going to operate. These activities create performance clarity (the WHAT they are to deliver), values clarity (the HOW they will treat others as they deliver on goals), and inspire confidence and willing focus to “do what it takes” to deliver on goals (discretionary energy). These three pieces, effectively managed, create a high performance, values-aligned culture.

Some of the key activities required of leaders to “set the stage” include:

  • Clarifying and communicating the vision, values, and strategy for the team/organization.
  • Setting and communicating goals for the team and for individual team members.
  • Coaching, redirecting, and praising to ensure team members cooperate and perform well, both individually and as a team.
  • Honoring and respecting team members and demanding they do the same for their peers & customers.

When these activities are proactively managed, leaders create a powerful, positive culture that creates trust, respect, and gratifying work for team members.

How Will You Know That Employee Discretionary Energy is being Applied?

These activities are typical of a high performing, values aligned culture. Employees:

  • Do their work to standard (often beyond standard), then volunteer to help with other projects or assist their peers.
  • “Wow” customers by meeting customer expectations then going another 1% beyond to provide a unique experience that exceeds needs.
  • Proactively solve problems. Employees with work passion tell the boss, “I identified problem ‘X’ late yesterday. I solved it by doing ‘Z’ and have informed everyone involved so we shouldn’t see it happen again.”

The Leader’s Primary Contribution

Leaders, do continue to manage the variety of activities required to keep your team on track. AND, pay close attention to the most powerful contribution you can provide to your company: employee discretionary energy.


Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Unintentional Values in Your Workplace

As a senior consultant with the Ken Blanchard Companies, I have the opportunity to work with leaders at all levels of all kinds of organizations. About half of my work involves leadership skill building and team effectiveness; culture work makes up the other half.

Because of my experience with refining cultures, it is impossible for me to go into an organization without subconsciously (maybe consciously) assessing the culture of their work environment. I observe and listen for how people are expected to behave, to perform, to treat each other and customers.

I often hear about practices and norms that exist which will NOT support the skills we’re teaching in the leadership or team session. It is not always appropriate for me to raise that issue with the client; if they are committed to a training solution, learning about culture issues is a complication they may not be able to do anything about.

AND I love “sharpening the saw,” keeping my observation and consultative skills honed by listening and evaluating different cultures I’m exposed to. Whether an organization has intentionally created their culture or that culture evolved by default, it does have a culture that is tangible and observable. If your culture was created by default, it is likely that unintentional values or norms exist. If you consistently see conflicts, blame, poor performance, and frustration, your culture is eroding employee morale with every passing minute! Let’s look at two very powerful systems which may reinforce undesirable valued behaviors in your organization.

Rewards and Incentives

Whether you have formalized values and valued behaviors or not, rewards and incentive systems can cause distinct behaviors, some good, some not good. For example, if you desire a team culture but your organization offers only individual compensation, you will likely see “I win, you lose” behaviors by team members.

A few years back a client described the following inappropriate, incentive-driven behaviors by a salesperson. The company paid a very low base; over 70% of sales staff compensation was in the form of commissions. One salesperson negotiated with a few of his big clients to sell them product at the end of each quarter. The saleperson enjoyed commissions on these sales. Then, one month into the new quarter, he would process returns of that product and refund the client’s money. He was generating commissions on “ghost” sales. This went on every quarter. Everyone – the salesperson, the client, the finance team of his company – knew what he was doing and tolerated this behavior. Eventually the company changed the rules about commissions on product returns, but the damage had been done.

Recognition and Messaging

Every time you publicly celebrate someone for a behavior or action, you are reinforcing that behavior or action. If you recognize a player for goal accomplishment but everyone knows that they’ve taken inappropriate short cuts (for example) to reach that goal, you are reinforcing undesirable actions.

Even praising the RIGHT behavior can have unintended (and undesirable) consequences. One client celebrated a staff member who learned the wrong materials had been shipped to a client. That person packed the right material and drove to the airport just in time for overnight shipment by UPS. Recovery was expensive but the materials arrived on time. The client celebrated this terrific proactive solution and such recoveries became more frequent. The client realized they needed to celebrate solving the “why do we ship the wrong materials?” problem more than celebrating the recovery!

You don’t have to be a CEO to create values clarity in your own workteam. If you experience unintentional values in your workplace, start setting values expectations now.


Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Build and Leverage Your “Vital Network”

Do you have a healthy “vital network” that serves you well? Becky Robinson’s blog post at Weaving Influence really struck a chord with me when I read it today – and it prompted this post.

I define one’s “vital network” as an association of individuals with a common interest who provide mutual support, clarity, and assistance. A group like this can become a proactive support system, far beyond casual workmates and acquaintances. Your vital network is a community of compatriots who keep you on course, serve as “truth tellers,” and surround you with positive energy.

Building Your Vital Network

Creating your vital network begins with an evaluation of who in your broader network of co-workers, friends, and family fits your criteria for “vitalness.” Here are my criteria (yours might be different):

  • Values-alignment – Potential vital network members share your values and demonstrate aligned valued behaviors. There are few if any situations where you wonder “What the heck were they thinking when they did ‘X’?” with these folks.
  • Mentorship – They have life experiences that they share willingly when asked. You trust their perspective because you’ve seen them successfully negotiate a variety of human circumstances.
  • Demonstrated Caring – “Vital network”-worthy players go out of their way to check in, unprompted. They reach out with a thought or article of interest, or a query about your well-being.

My lovely bride (of nearly 32 years), Diane, is my most important vital network member. Nearly everything I consider enjoys Diane’s insights.

In my journey towards greater effectiveness in the social media space, I have found fabulous “vital network” members from outside my established circles. Becky Robinson responded to my request to “pick her brain” about how to gain traction with followers & listeners in this space – she has become a wonderful friend. Kevin Eikenberry helped open the door to a fun project and has provided fabulous insights from his experience.

I stumbled upon Lolly Daskal‘s vibrant LeadFromWithin tweet chat and community on Twitter (it recently expanded to Facebook). She welcomed me with open arms as a valued colleague. Lolly is a confidant and vital friend.

Dan Rockwell has shared his expertise with humor & focus, a unique combination! Blanchard colleagues David Witt and Jesse Lyn Stoner offer support & clarity as I continue learning to expand my influence in this space.

Others who have given freely of their knowledge include Wally Bock, Patti Blackstaffe, and Mike Henry, Sr. They have “invited me in” and I’m much smarter for their gifts!

Serve the Members of Your Vital Network

I’ve spoken here about how much I’ve learned from my vital network members. Yet the network only serves me so long as I am willing to invest time, energy, and heart to serve members of my vital network. I don’t yet feel that I have “balanced the scale” with some of these wonderful people, but I’m working on it – by reaching out, connecting, offering support, and being present when they ask for help.

What’s the Condition of your Vital Network?

There is no time like the present to examine your vital network. Does your vital network include the kind of peers and experts that you will benefit most from? Are you serving as well as receiving?

What are you waiting for? There are fabulous partners just beyond your reach – stand, open up, invite conversations. You’ll be glad you did.


Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Values Accountability Requires Grace & Diligence

In the USA, March means the men’s and women’s college basketball championships are happening. The greatest of “March Madness” surrounds the men’s NCAA tournament.  In March ’11 a key player on a top ranked team found that his university is very serious about it’s Honor Code.

The player is Brandon Davies, a sophomore center on Brigham Young University‘s men’s basketball team. Due to behavior inconsistent with the university’s honor code, Davies was suspended from the team for the rest of the season. His continued participation as a BYU student is being discussed by university officials. Davies apologized to teammates this week for letting the team down.

Reaction in the sports press, blogs, and forums was fast and loud. On one side, opponents of the action berate the university for unrealistic rules and punishment stronger than the behavior demands. On the other side, advocates support the university for not letting the possibility of a Final Four appearance by the team to delay or ignore the breach of the code.

Clear Agreements & Accountability

At issue here is not whether you think BYU’s Honor Code is fair or appropriate. What is at issue is clear agreements and accountability.

The university believes that the campuses of BYU exist to provide an education in an atmosphere consistent with the ideals and principles of their church. The code states, “That atmosphere is created and preserved through commitment to conduct that reflects those ideals and principles.” These expectations apply not only to students but also to faculty and staff, who certainly contribute to the university atmosphere.

The code further states that, “Students must be in good Honor Code standing to be admitted to, continue enrollment at, and graduate from BYU. The term ‘good Honor Code standing’ means that a student’s conduct is consistent with the Honor Code,” at all times, on or off campus.

The university has every right to define what standards of conduct are required by faculty, staff, and students. If a student attends BYU, that student knows very well what the “ground rules” are. If a student doesn’t agree with those conduct standards, they can choose not to attend that university. If a student chooses to attend the university, that student must adhere to those standards of conduct or face the consequences.

Grace & Diligence

University officials are diligent and apply consequences when they learn of a code infraction. A BYU spokeswoman indicated that the Honor Code Office learned of the violation on Monday, February 28. The university announced on Tuesday, March 1, that Davies had been dismissed from the team but was being allowed to stay in school pending further review by the Honor Code Office.

Officials used tact and grace to announce the violation and consequences. They did not go into details of this specific case, they simply referred to an Honor Code violation. They did not judge Davies nor did they attribute blame.

I believe strongly that the university handled this extremely well. The way they handled this situation, with grace, diligence, and respect, further demonstrates the kind of atmosphere they want to create.

How Clear are Conduct Standards in Your Company?

Our proven culture change process places strong emphasis upon creating values and valued behaviors that help leaders and staff understand what a good citizen looks like in their organization. In our experience, without agreement about conduct standards, the work environment breeds contempt, distrust, and fear.

What can you do today to clarify and enforce desired valued behaviors?


Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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