Work is Contractual - Effort is Personal By Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden
January 2005

In this issue...
  • Update on research efforts for our new book
  • Work is Contractual - Effort is Personal
  • Adopt A Platoon
  • Dinged Up Paperbacks Available at Big Savings

  • Update on research efforts for our new book

    In September of 2004, we asked our readers for help in researching our new book.

    Please click here if you have already volunteered to help us in this effort.

    Please click here if you have NOT already volunteered, but would like to learn about helping us.

    Work is Contractual - Effort is Personal

    By Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden

    Unless you were in a self-imposed news blackout during the last week of 2004, you probably know about what USAirways CEO Bruce Lakefield called an "operations meltdown" - the fiasco of epic proportions that besieged the bankrupt airline when "a large number" of flight attendants, baggage handlers, and ramp workers called in sick on Christmas weekend. Some of you, we're sure, were part of the story, as yours was one of the nearly 400 flights cancelled and/or the 10,000 or so pieces of luggage that ended up short of their final destination.

    Union leaders denied any organized effort to slow operations. Of course there was no organized effort. None was needed. Maybe there was a little "peer encouragement", but by and large, all it took was for each of those USAirways employees to decide on his or her own to withhold their services for a couple of days. As the work rules allow people to call in sick, no rules were broken.

    Which brings us to our point. Work is contractual; effort is personal.

    As many of you know, we're in the throes of writing a book that deals with the whole topic of "Discretionary Effort" (DE) - that increment of human labor whose expenditure is entirely at the discretion of the individual who owns it. Some (not all) of the articles in our Fresh Milk series this year will explore what we're learning about DE.

    In purely economic terms, Discretionary Effort is by far the most profitable morsel of human effort ever offered up to employers. By definition, you can't pay for DE; you can't beat, cajole, or entice it out of anyone. It's what we do willingly, because we want to.

    And in that respect, it's more valuable than gold. Or a portfolio full of Berkshire Hathaway stock.

    In our book (literally and figuratively), the organization that figures out how to corporately maximize the Discretionary Effort of its entire workforce wins. Simple as that.

    'A' Game vs. 'C' Game
    While we're sure that most of you who read Fresh Milk are above average on the DE scale, we'd all probably have to admit that there are days when we play our "A" Game, and other days when we offer no better than our "C" Game.

    Studies have repeatedly shown that, in fact, most of us operate far short of our potential much of the time. In 2004, we asked 158 of our readers to complete a survey on DE. Correction - we asked all 5000 of you do the survey; 158 of you obliged. What you told us suggests that most people routinely expend only about 62% of their physical, mental, and emotional capacity while at work. Everyone's entitled to a bad day now and then, but that's like taking every Thursday afternoon and all day Friday off!

    When asked how much of their capacity they thought most people routinely expend on non-work activities (hobbies, sports, volunteer, family, etc.), the same respondent group pegged the ol' 'effort meter' a little higher, at about 75% power.

    By their own admission, 41% of the respondents to our survey indicated that they "could contribute substantially more at work, if they wanted to." Fewer than 30% disagreed with that statement. Calling to mind our respective performance on the last few 'honey-do' lists we each attempted around the house, we suspect this phenomenon isn't confined to the workplace.

    So what makes the difference? Why do some people work "flat out" most of the time, and others' work can best be described as "flatlined"?

    Some of this, we think, is institutional. Places like Wegman's Supermarkets, Southwest Airlines, Nordstrom, and FedEx, seem to have more people playing their "A" game more of the time than most of their competitors. Do you really think it's purely coincidence that the Christmas airline luggage fiasco involved USAirways, and not Southwest? We don't.

    Another part of the equation - and from what we can tell so far, a large part of it - simply has to do with how we're wired. Call it what you like - character, Commitment, work ethic - some of us are simply more devoted to giving our all than others, regardless of the presence or absence of outside motivators. Everyone has an "A" Game and a "C" Game. But for some folks, "A" just seems to be the default condition.

    How else can you explain what happened at USAirways less than a week after the aforementioned meltdown?

    To nearly everyone's shock and amazement, the airline's management, knowing that hundreds of dispirited employees had just feigned illness rather than show up to do what they were being paid to do, asked employees to volunteer to work, with no pay - nada - gratis - pro bono if you will, as greeters, traffic directors, and coffee dispensers, at the Philadelphia hub, over the New Year's weekend.

    The only thing more astonishing than the airline's temerity in asking for volunteers was the fact that a couple hundred of their employees actually bellied up and did it!

    These people work for the same company, in the same locations, with the same managers and surly passengers as the "sickies". They've been asked to take the same pay cuts, and have been subjected to the same remarkable disregard as their fellow workers, and yet they volunteered to help the company out in a pinch. In our view, that can only be explained by individual differences in what each person is willing to do for the sake of the company.

    So What Can You Do?
    Let's say you're a manager who wants to do what you can to maximize the DE of the people you work with. What can you do? You can be sure that'll take up the lion's share of the book we're working on right now, and it's a topic that can't be squeezed into a quart of Fresh Milk, but here are a few ideas for starters:

    1. Hire people with a proven record of going the extra mile. Look for it in resumes, and listen for it in interviews. Watch for signs of self-initiated development efforts like taking courses outside of work, taking on unpopular assignments, and volunteering in the community.
    2.Take strident efforts to build, maintain, and protect trust between you and the people you work with. We'll do an awful lot for those we trust, and precious little for those we don't.
    3. Don't take undue advantage of those who customarily give their all. Everyone has a limit. The fastest route to an "A" player's "C" game is to make "heroic" efforts the norm. If you expect people to work 70 hours week after week after week, with no end in sight, you'd better be putting something mighty tasty in the Kool- Aid.
    4. When people do, indeed, go above and beyond the call of duty, let them know you appreciate it. Really appreciate it. Thank them, genuinely. Reward them, acknowledge their work as truly special, and let them know you know the difference between doing the minimum required, and playing one's "A" game.

    Adopt A Platoon

    We know there are lots of needs in the world right now, between the tsunami victims in south Asia, and the troops fighting in Iraq, just to name two. Several months ago, we made a decision to adopt a platoon of soldiers from the US Army's 25th Infantry Division, currently serving in Iraq. We have Committed to the platoon's officers that, throughout the 15-month deployment, they will get whatever they need to maintain esprit de corps. To learn more, and see how you can help if you like, visit this link.

    Thank you,
    Bill and Richard

    Dinged Up Paperbacks Available at Big Savings

    You know how it is when you've been on the road for a while. The same goes for our paperback version of Contented Cows. After a few trips back and forth from one convention to another, or back from the distributor, they start to show just a few signs of travel fatigue. Same great book inside, but maybe with a corner or two turned up. While they've never actually been used, we can't really sell them as new. Our loss is your gain. These books are available, while supplies last, at our Contented Cows Online Store, for only 8 bucks (US). To order, click here.

    Resources to make yours a Contented Cows workplace

    Buy the book/CD or Downloadable Articles Online

    Employee Opinion Surveys

    Hire Bill and/or Richard to speak for your next meeting

    NEW - Interview Guide: "Finding Great People"

    Join our mailing list!
    phone: 800-940-7006 or 904-720-0870
    Save $10 On Your Next Qualifying Order from the Contented Cows Online Store

    That's right. Spend $24 or more (excluding shipping) at the Contented Cows Online Store, and receive an automatic US$10 off the total price of your order.

    Click on the link below to receive your savings!

    Offer good through January 31, 2005

    Email Marketing by