How leaders get people to go the extra mile—and beyond.

Striptease_movie_posterFor the 1996 movie Striptease, Demi Moore became a stripper, complete with all the training and stage moves.

She also acquired an amazing body shape to match. One year later Moore demi-mooreshaved her head, and barrelled into an even more amazing figure to take on a most un-stripper-like role of Jordan O’Neill in G.I. Jane. She even underwent various intensive forms of training led by military advisers and SEAL staff.

No one forced Demi Moore to do all these things. The Hollywood dream machine was perfectly capable of simulating the desired results with body doubles, special effects and other ingenious techniques. To do what Moore did she had to love what she was doing. She wanted to be the very best she could be.

For the best actors, going the extra mile is routine. Even your average performer would never dream of planning to deliver “a just good enough performance”.  Actors know audiences expect them to excel, to aim for more than an average performance—to love what they do.

extra-mileIn business though, getting people to go the extra mile, to go beyond what they must do, is something of a big deal. While every sensible job description says you’re expected to do your best, these days you’re also expected, indeed required, to be fully engaged.

The current  business focus on engagement is not driven by altruism; there’s a hard-headed business reason. Current research evidence is unequivocal and only the most fact-averse leader or manager would ignore it. Engaged people deliver more–whether by offering ideas, relating better to customers, or voluntarily warning about a possible breach of codes and ethics that put the firm’s reputation in danger.

The whole point about engagement is that it’s discretionary, not mandated effort. You cannot easily force someone to go the extra mile, at least not for long. Like Demi Moore, you must want to do it for yourself. The end result is unmistakeable: engaged employees invariably achieve more.


Another important finding from research is if you want discretionary effort from employees don’t rely on financial perks. As one high flying manager recently told us:

“At this level you’re not motivated by money on a day-to-day basis.”

Instead focus on engagement, which can be stem from emotional or rational reasons. According to research by the Corporate Leadership Council for example, emotional commitment has by far the greatest impact on peoples’ willingness to go the extra mile, rather than the more logical rational reasons.


What does all the available research add up to? In essence, people are more likely to invest extra time, energy and creativity when they feel both their work and the company’s purpose are worthwhile, rather than when there is the prospect of a pay rise or promotion.

Another importent  implication of engagement and emotional commitment is these are closely associated with ethical behaviour by employers. Want people to go the extra mile, to deliver exceptional performance and provide the high value discretionary effort? Then run an ethical company in which employees come to see the work as worthwhile and have leaders who demonstrate ethical behaviour every day.

No Compromise

Google has a system which rewards failure as well as success. This approach encourages employees to come forward with their ideas, acknowledges the importance of every individual’s contribution and rewards effort. In essence it’s a sort of self-driven meritocracy.

The company also donates $50 for every five hours that an employee volunteers and has a scheme which sends employees to community projects in India and Ghana. No wonder people feel it’s worthwhile to work at Google.

Software developer SAS has a medical clinic on-site – particularly useful considering when there’s no free healthcare in the US. This company does not just think in terms of what employees want from their careers. It also uses a broader socio-economic context to decide how to engage and unleash the discretionary effort of its people.

These two companies are amongst the 100 best companies to work for according to Fortune which Fortune1bases its list on how employees assess their own work places. Both Google and SAS have created a work community in which altruism flourishes. They show it’s possible to address the needs of every worker.

Companies like Google and SAS depend on developing and using advance technology. They rely on innovation and the perseverance to see ideas through from conception to execution. For this they absolutely depend on generating discretionary effort to survive.

Mad monkeyMad Monkey, a company that runs hostels in Cambodia is another example of a smaller business which incorporates altruism or ethics into its practices and gets its people to deliver the all-important discretionary effort. This company was a nominee for the 2014 Responsible Business Awards and builds the desire to help and motivate employees into its culture.

Mad Monkey hires people with disabilities and provides its Cambodian staff with free reading and writing education. The company is also socially responsible on a wider scale, donating to charitable projects within its communities. According to its founder, the company’s culture prompts employees to

“take ownership of the business, they don’t just go the extra mile, they all love their work”.

Southwest Share The Spirit LogoSouthwest Airlines did not become one of America’s most admired companies and a benchmark for customer service by chance. It refined its vision and purpose despite posting 40 consecutive years of profitability. In January 2013, Southwest told its employees: Our vision is to become the world’s most loved, most flown, and most profitable airline.

Every week CEO Gary Kelly reportedly gives a “shout out”—public praise—to employees who have gone above and beyond to show great customer service. Each month the Southwest Spirit magazine features the story of an employee who has gone above and beyond. Southwest highlights positive behaviours through a variety of recognition programs and awards.

This philosophy of never being satisfied with the status quo comes from Southwest founder Herb Kelleher. He said the core of the company’s success is the most difficult thing for a competitor to imitate:

“They can buy all the physical things. The things you can’t buy are dedication, devotion, loyalty—the feeling that you are participating in a crusade,”

These companies above are all run by highly responsible leaders who expect their employees to go the extra mile—in some ways they take discretionary effort for granted. But they don’t just share their expectations. They systematically devise environments in which people flourish, in which their love of the work is appreciated and rewarded. That’s how leaders get people to go the extra mile—and beyond.

Guidelines for discretionary effort


[symple_toggle title=”Sources” state=”closed”] 1 Ivey Business Journal, 2013. What engages employees most, or the ten Cs of employees engagement.
2 Employee engagement survey. Corporate Leadership Council, 2004.
3 Dr A. Day and Dr G. Lubitsh, How lack of trust holds back NHS transformation, Thursday 3 March 2011
4 C. Gallo, Southwest Airlines Motivates Its Employees With A Purpose Bigger Than A Paycheck, Forbes, 1/21 2014
5 J. Giulioni, Closing the “discretionary effort” gap, March 14th, 2013 [/symple_toggle]

Post jointly researched and prepared by Sasha Seddon, Antonia di Lorenzo and Andrew Leigh.













Comments are closed.