I don’t know any managers who would not want to see their employees go the ‘extra mile’. But what does this really mean? For some managers it could mean ‘work as many hours as I do or ‘be on call 24/7’. For many it simply means visible hard work.

I don’t know many employees that are not juggling work responsibilities with other things like family time, sports, leisure and all those good things that make life meaningful. And most do in fact want to give their best at work.

These two perspectives would seem to indicate an incompatibility with the notion of the ‘extra mile’. I believe that the reason for this is the definition of what an extra mile actually means.

I heard a story from a client a few days ago. An unknown customer had walked up to her administration desk repeatedly asking for help with things that had nothing to do with her role. Instead of sending the person on their way, she took personal responsibility each time to make sure that the customer received help from the relevant person.

The customer later turned out to be an important prospect that rewarded the company with their business and backed it up by writing a letter to management about how impressed he was with the administrator, who was the basis of giving his business to the company. The administrator had spent just an extra 10 minutes to create a very happy customer … by going ‘above and beyond’ what was required of her job.

This story suggests a different definition of the extra mile, and one that I think both managers and employees can strive for, i.e.: ‘Thinking creatively beyond one’s job to serve client needs.’

I’d like to suggest the following broad guidelines for managers who want to make sure that employees go the extra mile:

1. Catch employees in the act of thinking beyond the ‘borders’ of their own job to solve client needs. Let them know that you noticed, and that you appreciate it. Communicate to everyone that this is the behaviour the organization needs.

2. While you can expect employees to give up their personal time for work once in a while, you cannot expect this as a matter of course. Show that you respect work-life balance needs. For example, don’t call an employee after hours to discuss work unless it truly is an emergency.

3. If you are content to work extremely long hours, let your employees know that this does not mean that you expect the same from them. If you do not communicate this, chances are that they will feel continually pressurized and often demoralized as a result.

4. Be careful about placing too much emphasis on recognizing hard work versus recognising effective work. A good software programmer might write 200 bug-free lines of code in a day and go home at 5:00, while a moderate one might struggle until 7:30 p.m. to produce 100 lines of code. You will get more of what you reward.

5. Finally, make time for your employees and focus on your own management style. Engaged employees are far more likely to go the extra mile, while disengaged employees will do the minimum. An engagement is primarily a function of manager behaviour.

Russel Horwitz, Principal