Five Steps to Gaining Company-Wide Discretionary Thinking

Tom Walter Care for people, Leadership

If every employee gave just five or ten percent more than the required thoughts every day at work, how much stimulus towards performance excellence would result? Is it possible to raise the level of your staff’s discretionary thinking, company-wide, and find out?
Yes! It is possible, and those organizations that have been fortunate enough to discover how to stimulate discretionary thinking are reaping about 500 more positive thoughts daily. These thoughts from each employee are centered on enhancing the organization, helping to propel it toward performance excellence.
The average human brain produces 60,000 thoughts a day, and according to the Institute for Human Health and Human Potential about 8% of those are used at work. A thought can be as simple as “I need to pick up a pen,” to as complex as “We should alter our monthly tactical plan because…” Simple math tells us that, on average, we use 4,800 thoughts on the performance of our daily work duties. Increasing that number to 10% instead of the normal 8% would give you—and hopefully you guessed it—6,000 work-related thoughts.
Increasing the number of work-related thoughts doesn’t happen with a snap of the fingers, but there are several simple steps you can take to warrant more from your employees. Here are five tips on how to increase organization-related discretionary thinking company-wide:


1) Establish a culture of behavior.
Does everyone know which employee behavior actions are expected? Life is so much more fluid and enjoyable when everyone knows and practices acceptable behavior.
2) Leaders always lead by example.
Leaders are always listened to and always watched. If your organization’s leaders follow the established company culture, then thoughts are not wasted on projecting what those leaders may do in any given situation. No need to expend those questioning thoughts, because the organizational leaders will automatically follow the expected culture of behavior.
3) Screen for skill, hire for attitude.
Only hire and retain employees that follow the organizational culture. You can teach skills, but attitudes are an acquired internal behavior that can rarely change. If all members of your staff share the same emotional approach to life, then creative thinking becomes contagious—and popular.
4) Remove disruptors from the workplace.
Disruptors are those activities that detract from positive organizational behavior. These range from banging doors and uncomfortable work temperatures, to disruptive music and unclean restrooms. These activities result in staff using their discretionary thinking to wonder why leadership allows these patterns or uncomfortable situations to exist. Imagine someone developing a great idea that would enhance the organization, only to have his co-worker in the next cube crank up Hank Williams Jr. That idea is placed on the back-burner (as he instead focuses on the annoyance), is set back, underdeveloped or turned off completely, all because of an undesirable working condition.
5) Recognize and reward those that give maximum effort.
Outcome is not as critical as effort when trying to boost employee engagement. Striving for recognition is part of human nature. Members of an organization quickly learn how recognition is achieved. Staff will often use their discretionary thoughts to pursue ideas that might earn them recognition. In these instances, recognition is primary and rewards are secondary. Leaders should be sensitive to the type of rewards that are dispensed. It can be difficult to monetarily reward anyone that uses their discretionary thinking to utilize cognitive skills in their daily work efforts. A monetary reward might potentially place a price on that specific effort in place of recognition for a job well done. In other words, determine rewards that don’t detract from good efforts—rewards that your staff will appreciate. Ideas for rewards may include a gift card or tickets for a family outing.
These steps are simplified, and there are many, many more strategies to succeed in this venture. Hopefully, these steps can be utilized as a framework for success in increasing the percentage of discretionary thinking your staff uses on work-related matters. Applying these five simple steps will result in a positive, measurable impact on the organization, and when you’re ready, you can take on the next set of steps.
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Tom Walter is a “serial entrepreneur” who has launched nearly 30 companies. He is the CEO of Tasty Catering, named one of Winning Workplaces best small companies in 2010. This post is republished with permission from Serial Entrepreneur
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