How to get employees to "go that extra mile"

by Bruce Tulgan08 Sep 2016
Managers ask me, “What about the employee who does just enough work and does it just well enough, and nothing else? How do you motivate that person to go the extra mile?”

To which I always say, “So why not just explain to them, frequently and enthusiastically, that ‘going the extra mile’ is the expectation?”
I was having this very conversation with a restaurant manager. The manager kept insisting, “That’s just setting the bar higher. So now the real expectation is the old expectation plus going the extra mile.”
My response: “That’s exactly right! When you complain that your direct reports are not going above and beyond expectations, you are trying to raise the bar. So raise it! Spell out that higher expectation as clearly as possible.”
The reason this is not an entirely satisfying response is that when managers complain that their employees don’t “go the extra mile,” they are really saying they want employees to think of it on their own ‘initiative’.

However, you probably can’t teach someone to care and it wouldn’t be appropriate in your management relationship anyway.
I often ask managers, “Are you sure you want that employee taking initiative all the time? What if, for instance, a waiter thought a nice way to ‘go the extra mile’ was to give customers back massages while they dine? Or if he decided it would be nice to give customers free sodas?” Take a step back, do you really want to teach employees to ‘take initiative’ by getting them to focus on doing things that are precisely not expected?
Here’s what I teach managers to use: an “extra-mile-list” for their employees. What would be all the ways that an employee, doing his job as best he can, could take those extra moments in between his other tasks and add some real value by doing something above and beyond?
Instead of wishing for employees to meet a bunch of unspoken expectations, let people know exactly what it would look like for them to “go the extra mile” in their particular roles.
Start talking about going the “extra mile” in your regular one-on-one dialogues:
  1. Make an “extra mile” list for yourself. What would it look like for you to go the extra mile in your role? After you do your job very well, very fast, all day long. What are some extra ways you can add value? This will give you a bit of perspective.
  2. Ask every one of your direct reports to make an “extra mile” list for himself.
  3. Review each employee’s “extra mile” list. Perhaps talking through it together you will both learn a few things. Sometimes managers are surprised to find that items on the employee’s “extra mile” list would have been on the manager’s list of basic performance expectations.
  4. Encourage employees to “keep score” for themselves on how often they complete items on the “extra mile” list. Take note of those who do and those who don’t score a lot of “extra mile points”. For those who do, provide recognition, reinforcement, and rewards whenever you can. For those who don’t, ask once in a while, “Why not?”
Most employees might not ever have realised it was something they could do or should do, or that you actually expected them to do. Now you are telling them, “These are concrete opportunities to excel. Go get ‘em!”

Bruce Tulgan is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking. He is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a sought-after keynote speaker and seminar leader.