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Book review: Beyond the Call by Marc Woods and Steve Coomber


Gaining people’s commitment to improve their productivity and performance has always been a vital function of managers. But to achieve business success in today’s complex and competitive environments, organisations need their people to go beyond the call of duty. This might involve anything from putting in extra time, going out of one’s way to help a customer or using personal initiative to solve a problem.

This book sets out to describe why some people are more than happy to go the extra mile at work, while others do the minimum required and go home on the dot of 5pm. The authors suggest that most employees are capable of doing much more than they are doing. What stops them is the working culture and the nature of their relationship with their managers and colleagues. To change things, organisations must create conditions in which people want to do more than they are asked to, of their own volition.

The authors coin a specific term to describe the idea of additional employee input; they call it ‘discretionary effort’. This is different from 'employee engagement'. An employee could be fully engaged in the decisions and activities that affect their jobs, without doing any more than what is strictly required of them.

The book starts with a lengthy description of what discretionary effort is and why it is important. It then explains in detail how a research team identified and tested their model of this concept. The six following chapters describe the things that organisations can do to maximise their employees’ ability and desire to go beyond the call. I like the way that these chapters are structured; each one ends with a list of action points which summarise the main issues described in the preceding pages. The final chapter – Next Steps – is a call to action and an opportunity for the reader to create an implementation plan for improving discretionary effort within her/his own team, department or organisation.

It’s true that many of the points included here have been chewed over many times during the past 30 or so years. For example: ‘Walking the floor is an essential tool for leaders to help them get to know their people.’ Really? And: ‘Teams are an essential part of organisational life’. Hold the front page!

But such timeworn leadership guidance is here set in the context of technology advances, global markets, outsourcing, social media marketing  and people power. There are many new ideas. I liked the section on how managers working at a distance can meet the communication challenge. I enjoyed the material on how to create an atmosphere of fairness, while not necessarily treating everyone the same. And, even though I have designed many workshops on the themes of leadership and teamwork, the book deepened my understanding of how to build winning teams in this brave new business world.

I loved this book: it is well written, well structured and contains much that will interest both newly appointed managers and those who have been in the role for some time.

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