PMI Bangalore Chapter

PM Guest Article January 2021

Employee Experience:  How to Tap into Employee Discretionary Energy

Harmeet Singh Chawla 

Harmeet Chawla is the Managing Partner & Co – Founder of Flywheel Management Services.

“Human beings have discretionary energy, and they would give it to you if you treat them with dignity and respect.” – Paul O’Neill, former Treasury Secretary of US under George W. Bush.

As employees, we each have moments in our days when we know we have done something worthwhile when we know we are part of something, whether big or small. An organization needs to focus on the moments that make a difference for the employees. Together, those moments add up across all of the organization and enable the project team members and managers to bring the organization’s bold mission to life.

Energizing the employees, helping them realize they are part of something special—an empowering organization paving the way for their immense growth possible by their ability to operate as one global, integrated firm across business units, regions, and functions. This would enable a positive impact and help deliver exceptional value and complete solutions to your clients.

Through the Leaders and Project Managers, the employees can create a real impact, grow personally and professionally, work with talented people, and receive appreciation for their contributions.

An organization that places value on these characteristics sets them apart and positions them as the best place to work in the industry. Because being a part of an organization means making a difference and improve the business—every moment, every day.

Role of a Leader & Project Manager to drive engagement and employee experience

How employees feel about their leaders and project managers directly impacts how they experience the organization—how they think about their jobs and the company. Engagement is also personal. Understanding your own (as leader and project manager) engagement is one of the first steps toward engaging others. Successful leaders & project managers understand discretionary energy’s power and take conscious action to tap into it at work. They draw forth and enable the employee to contribute their discretionary energy by creating a work environment that empowers and encourages employees to perform.

Studies at several organizations have shown a clear relationship between high employee engagement levels—colloquially defined as the willingness and ability to go the extra mile—and improved financial and operational results.

Why focus on Discretionary Energy?

Discretionary energy is something that an employee chooses to exert at work to coworkers or customers at work—or not. An employer pays for the fundamental tasks that he hires an employee to perform. Discretionary energy is something that the employee chooses to exert and is willing to contribute beyond its basic requirements.

Does tapping into employee discretionary energy sound like a positive workplace contribution? It is. Think of employee discretionary energy as a powerful performance enhancer that can help you set your workplace on fire with employee performance and excitement.

Now let’s understand how some forward-looking, progressive companies like Haier are challenging bureaucracy and authoritarian structures to run large businesses, energize their employees/ project teams & managers, and tap into discretionary energy.

Haier removed its middle management layer and organized the company with 80,000 employees as independent, self-managed units, each having its P&L. Employees can switch between business units with the project team members, and managers have the primary responsibility to increase customer demand.

Likewise, Morning Star, a leading food processor company in the United States, achieves a high coordination level without a supervisory structure by combining managerial discipline and market-centric flexibility – without bosses or titles promotions. The 400 full time ‘self-managing’ employees negotiate responsibilities with their peers and work together like project members as a carefully choreographed dance troupe. Though Morning Star isn’t a small business, there is possibly no reason why the self-management model would not work for a larger organization.

Whether it is traditional hierarchical management-led or the self-management model, the more employee discretionary energy you can tap, the better the potential for well-served customers and happy employees. A happy employee positively interacts with customers and coworkers and experiences all of the work benefits from these positive interactions.

It is the oil that keeps the motor of a successful organization running. As a leader and project manager, your goal is to tap into as much of it as possible.