Diana: A Lesson in “Discretionary Effort”

23 Aug

The receptionist said: “You look lost.  Can I help you sir?”

I travel a lot for my work, and am often in foreign places where, in truth, I am lost. This was one of those days.

Lots of receptionists have seen the “gee-I-hope-I’m-in-the-right-place” look on the face of people they encounter. Some turn a blind eye to we directionally challenged people or, even worse, make us feel like we’re bothering them by asking for help. But on this particular occasion the receptionist, Diana, actually seemed concerned that I was lost.

“Thanks for asking. I’m supposed to be joining a meeting here, and I need to find my host”, I said.

To my surprise and delight Diana got up from behind her desk, smiled, and said: “The meeting is upstairs. Let me walk with you.”

As we were proceeding up the stairs she asked me where I was from and how long I would be in town. For an old road warrior like me such kindness is a true gift. As we neared the top of the stairs I saw my host. I thanked Diana and said goodbye, my day much the better for her efforts.

In our profession we talk a lot about “discretionary effort” as the critical outcome of a more engaged workplace. Here’s how a 2006 study conducted by The Conference Board describes employee engagement:

A heightened emotional and intellectual connection that an employee has for his/her job, organization, manager, or coworkers that in turn, influences him/her to apply additional discretionary effort to his/her work.

That term “discretionary effort” is descriptive, but feels a bit clinical to folks. Diana was showing the behaviors of an engaged employee. That’s why encounters like I had with her can serve as a reminder of what employee engagement is all about. Diana made several choices (discretionary effort) in her interaction with me—getting up from behind the desk and walking with me up the stairs with me is beyond what I had expected from our exchange.

By the way, the meeting I was attending was part of the leadership development program for an organization that had me as a guest speaker talking about —you guessed it— employee engagement. The organization is doing a lot of great things in building a more engaged workplace. I told the group of my encounter with Diana. They were pleased to know that their efforts to build on great place to work are making a difference.

Most workplaces have these moments, these glimpses, of an engaged employee making a difference for a customer or client, who show their appreciation by coming back often and telling their friends—the payoff for the efforts in engaging employees. Those whom we profile In Re-Engage are better at creating an environment where they happen far more frequently.

How are you managing to those moments?

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