Balance Cubed

Episode 59: “Tapping into Discretionary Effort

April 25, 2023 Joe Clementi "Coach Joe" Season 2 Episode 59
Balance Cubed
Episode 59: “Tapping into Discretionary Effort

Tapping into Discretionary effort


A company's culture is foundational to the future success of a business, impacting all corners of your organization from engagement and productivity to retention.

Just as a healthy culture cannot be faked, nor can it be "created' through superficial perks like happy hours and fancy lunches.  A high-performance culture comes from empowering your team and shifting them from merely showing up to giving the very best version of themselves.

Discretionary effort is the level of effort people could give if they wanted to, but above and beyond the minimum required. 

It is about moving from good enough, to great.  Recognizing the potential of each team member as they work with compelling purpose. Fostering a certain environment and culture gives teams an inroad to achieving the combined power of potential.

But before we speak about discretionary effort, we need to discuss "creative avoidance" which unconsciously filling the day with menial work to where we end up getting busy, just being busy.  The crossroads between discretionary effort and potential is tapping into purpose.

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 On Episode #59. "Tapping into Discretionary Effort"


Unleashing the team's full potential requires a strong sense of purpose that inspires their discretionary effort. The difference between high-performance and ordinary teams is based on collective potential, which has the power to create meaningful results.

Many leaders focus on what they don't want. By communicating negative expectations, they draw the team into an unhealthy cycle of fault-finding and finger pointing, rather than learning from mistakes. This creates a hostile environment where individuals compete for recognition instead of striving for progress together as a cohesive unit. Not only does this limit productivity but it can also take its toll on personal wellbeing. 

Therefore, let us shift our focus to performance over results - creating an environment that encourages growth, collaboration, and success!


High-performance teams thrive on discretionary effort - a source of pride and motivation that inspires them to produce extraordinary results. Encouraging autonomy, creativity, collaboration and challenge allows the team to be engaged with their work in a meaningful way. 

At its core, a culture of discretionary effort is rooted in four values - balance, purpose, recognition and contribution. These are essential for an environment where employees feel empowered to do their best work and trust the leadership that guides them. 

The power of discretionary effort lies in its subtle yet powerful effects on people's actions; as if it were a universal language meant to bring individuals together with one shared mission. Effective leaders provide clear guidance while allowing autonomy and responsibility over the desired result. A culture powered by this displays trust in employees who strive to act always in service of the company's best interests - even when not explicitly instructed by leadership. Such a team fueled by enthusiasm goes above and beyond expectations when fulfilling responsibilities expected of them!

Leaders of high-performance teams understand that success is not achieved on its own: it requires a combination of hard work, dedication, and the right environment to motivate people to be at their best. If you focus solely on winning the first inning but don't consider how your team works together in the long term, then you'll miss out on opportunities to grow and perfect your processes. 

High-performing teams recognize that failure can be an invaluable resource for improving both processes and personnel. People are essential for progress; they provide the drive needed to innovate and compete successfully in any industry. A culture which encourages discretionary effort will ultimately lead to greater success than one which tries to provide all of the answers or dictate all of the behaviors necessary for everyone's collective growth.

Kahn, W.A. (1990). Psychological conditions of personal engagement and disengagement at work. Academy of Management Journal, 33(4), 692-724. doi: 10.2307/256287

The NYU study of psychology on why people go beyond using discretionary effort outlined four key drivers of discretionary effort: (1) autonomy, (2) meaningfulness, (3) connection, and (4) fairness. The study found that when people feel a sense of autonomy over their work, that their efforts are meaningful, that they have strong connections to their team, and that they are treated fairly, they are more likely to go beyond using discretionary effort. 

The study also found that when these drivers are missing, employees are more likely to disengage and not go beyond using discretionary effort.

The study identified 7 key elements of discretionary effort.  You can use these in your business environment to identify if your team using their discretionary effort.

1.      Team identification.  Do the team members identify themselves as a collaborative group working in unison towards the same mission?

2.      Individual consideration. Is every team member contribution considered during times of turmoil and the ideation process?

3.      Fairness. Are all team members treated with the same level of faireness?

4.      Autonomy and empowerment.

5.      Self-sacrificial leadership.  Does the leader willingly sacrifice their gains in support of the greater purpose and mission of the team?

6.      Trust. Foundationally, trust is the guidepost for all team members.

7.      An environment to encourage creation, ideation, and process improvement. 


Leading a team to reach their peak performance involves more than just traditional approaches; instead, it requires an emphasis on self-discovery and avoiding micromanagement. Leaders must set clear objectives, provide regular check-ins, and challenge the current level of thinking without being overbearing. Team members must feel psychologically safe to question initiatives and contribute freely in order to achieve purposeful results. Through this approach, leaders do not need all the answers--they need collaboration from empowered individuals who are unafraid to challenge the status quo. 

When assessing performance, teams should use an autopsy approach that allows them to review progress objectively without feeling the need to defend themselves or their decisions. This judgement free review is key in identifying areas for improvement. For any of these strategies to be successful there must be a strong foundation of trust among all involved parties.

I’ll wrap this episode up with an appropriate quote.

This one is from one of my favorite authors, Patrick Lencioni

"Great teams do not hold back with one another. They are unafraid to air their dirty laundry. They admit their mistakes, their weaknesses, and their concerns without fear of reprisal." - Patrick Lencioni

Teams that give discretionary effort are driven to perform at their best.  They have an insatiable desire to compete and win with the highest degree of integrity.  They have a shared purpose and can visualize the current state to a desired state. They're clear about their "why" and are aligned on the goals and objectives.  

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