Beyond the Call - Marc Woods & Steve Coomber (Wiley 2013)
Opening with statement from the influential Edgar Schein “The only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and manage culture,” the authors go on to discuss the concept of discretionary effort (DE). This is something they feel has been under-researched and under-rated amidst all of the interest in organisational commitment and employee engagement of the last 30 years.
The book’s aim is to close the discretionary effort gap - between what people actually do and what they are potentially prepared and able to do. It is compiled from the authors’ own experience of the work environment, interviews they conducted, a review of the relevant literature, and from research done by Dr Christopher Rotolo at NY University. This last source supplies their definition for discretionary effort: “the effort that employees choose to exert in service to themselves, their co-workers, or their employers.” Put another way, it is the extent to which employees are prepared to perform above and beyond their job description - ‘beyond the call of duty.’
Different from other constructs, the authors propose that DE comes in two forms: in-role and extra-role. The former relates to ‘effort that goes beyond the expected level within one’s job description, neither punished nor rewarded’; the latter to ‘effort that goes beyond one’s job description, neither punished nor rewarded’. Furthermore, research has identified the drivers of both in-role and extra-role DE as internally and externally derived. The research also demonstrates the business benefits of DE by comparing groups of organisations with high DE with those with low DE scores. This showed that DE positively improves performance factors such as absenteeism, performance quality, performance management, commitment and job satisfaction.
The authors select 6 of drivers of DE on which to concentrate; implying that these are the most significant and /or the easiest to influence in seeking to develop a DE-conducive environment. These six are:
Autonomy / empowerment – employees with more autonomy are more likely to act freely to benefit others, more likely to expand their role and more likely to perform a greater breadth of tasks. Organisations that enable autonomy / empowerment need to be able to set boundaries, get a balance between freedom and control and provide appropriate support for empowered employees.
Self-sacrificial leadership – this is where leaders give up personal interest and gain for the benefit of the collective good. Acting as role models, these leaders motivate and inspire to behave in a similar way. Promoting self-sacrificial leadership requires organisational support in areas such as performance management and reward systems.
Individualised consideration – this involves understanding and fulfilling the needs of individuals (and is a fundamental element of transformational leadership theory). This becomes more difficult as organisations become larger and multi-national / cultural in nature.
Procedural Justice – this is the way in which employees perceive procedural fairness, decision-making and the way they are treated in organisations. This is strongly linked to team theory and the theory of organisational equity. Delivering this challenges organisations on issues like openness and transparency and may involve difficult shifts in culture.
Team identification – the more that individuals feel a sense of identity and unity of purpose with a team, the more likely they are to go beyond the call of duty. This is being challenged in the global / virtual world in which we increasingly operate. Team identification stems from the behaviour and influence of others around the individual.
Trustworthiness – a social construct which, in the organisational and DE context, refers to our willingness to have confidence in the words and actions of others and ascribe good intentions to others.
The messages in this book are not new. Even though the authors state that DE has been under-valued and under-researched, nonetheless there is a vast body of research and commentary on similar concepts and constructs such as Organisational citizenship behaviours (OCB), Prosocial behaviour and Work engagement. Moreover, myriad leadership books and articles cover the ground laid out in this book.
Notwithstanding these negatives, I liked this book. I liked its easy-read style and a dialogue that is suffused with apposite examples. It is easy to sense the authors’ enthusiasm for the topic and they have clearly enjoyed doing the extensive research which supports the book’s theses. Additionally, throughout the book the authors explain psychological and social concepts in plain language and easily-understood terms.
Furthermore, the book is well-presented, with “Drivers in Action” panels in each chapter and “Action Points” at the end of each chapter. Its closing chapter, called “Next Steps”, lays out the business case for DE and creates the impression that this is very much a practical rather than theoretical book.
Finally, it has a certain relevance to HR, in that it challenges us to establish a culture for discretionary effort through our work in management development, reward / recognition systems, performance management processes and management ethics. Which can’t be a bad thing, can it?!
Rating: 3 out of 5.