Engagement = Discretionary Effort


Create Engaged Employees

At a recent workshop with a team of senior leaders I opened by asking a few (leading) questions including:

  • How many of you manage individuals and/or a team?
  • Who is responsible for developing and growing people?
  • Who is involved in hiring and promoting?
  • Are you influencing others?
  • Are you motivating and engaging?

Everyone raised his or her hand for each question. Of course they did... I knew each of them had a role as leaders. It was a bit of a setup.


Next, I asked who wants to have ENGAGED EMPLOYEES? Once again, everyone raised a hand. However, on this question, I got pushback. The CFO asked me what I meant by “ENGAGEMENT”. As a trained consultant, I turned the question back at him.


His response was very interesting. He said that their team had done some thinking around this recently. Being a numbers guy, he had struggled with some of the definitions of engagement or engaged such as:  occupied, busy, involved in activity. How do you measure this? Busy and occupied? Doing what? Occupied by what types of activity? Aren’t we looking for this to be a positive outcome for both the individual and the organization? Engaged in complaining about the work environment is not the type of engagement we seek...


He defined employee engagement as “discretionary effort”.  I have been using this term ever since that day.  Merriam-Webster defines these terms as follows:

  • discretionaryadjective – available to be used when and how you decide
  • effortnoun – work done by the mind or body: energy used to do something


Engaged employees will put forth their discretionary effort, choosing to expend their extra/optional energy, focus, and time on productive and impactful things.

What does it look like when you have engaged employees, when you are getting team members' discretionary effort? Engaged employees:

  • Will go above and beyond
  • Take personal ownership for their work
  • Are passionate about what they do
  • Paint a positive image of the organization and recommend it and its products/services to others
  • Understands how their work results in meaningful outcomes
  • Vigorously pursues the organization's goals


What does this look like on a typical day?

  • On the drive home, they make that extra phone call
  • At work, they are surfing the internet to find ideas that help solve work problems
  • The conversation at lunch is about a challenge they are trying to solve
  • The positive energy is palpable


Ok, so employee engagement is something we all want. Great! Now the big question, how do we engage?


Individuals have core behavioral drives: the drive for control, the drive for social affiliation, the drive for consistency and familiarity, and the drive to be correct. These drives create needs. Understanding an individual’s motivating needs and identifying ways to meet these needs is the key to engaging employees. By understanding these needs, we can create/adapt the environment to meet these needs. Leaders need to understand that different people have different needs for information, control, social interaction and pace.


The Predictive Index behavioral assessment measures an individual’s drives, helping to decode an individual’s motivating needs to understand behavior. If you want engaged employees, meet their motivating needs by creating an environment that works for them!