I’ve often heard managers say to employees that they expect them to go above and beyond their job descriptions. Even most performance review forms have a category labeled “Exceeds Expectations.”
As managers, we all know that the standout employee does just that; not content to just satisfy requirements these people see wider or dig deeper or broaden the context of an assignment creatively. As I became a new manager, we looked for employees who “took initiative.” I was great at taking initiative, seeing ways to expand assignments that allowed for a better execution or for the results to have a more far-reaching impact. As I grew in business knowledge and managerial experience, I got better at making the decisions that allowed business growth. Sometimes those decisions meant allowing other individuals freedom to jump into the unknown.
This essay focuses on another kind of going “above and beyond” that has an equally important impact on a well-functioning organization but on which we don’t score our employees. “Organizational citizenship behavior” is the psychological term for the compilation of individual behaviors in a group setting and it grew out of the work of Dennis Organ, who, in 1988, described, “an individual behavior which is not rewarded by a formal reward system but that, when combined with the same behavior in a group, results in effectiveness.” Organ’s work identified these 5 common behaviors as: altruism, courtesy, sportsmanship, conscientiousness and civic virtue.
Altruism, the desire to help our coworkers while not expecting a reward, leads to workplace productivity gains. A workplace where employees exhibit altruism can be one with less stress, with employees knowing that we all pitch in and the burden doesn’t fall on any one individual’s shoulders alone. Similarly, when employees show courtesy to one another and conscientiousness about their work, you get a work environment that suggests efficiency and productivity.
Civic virtue encourages a sense of community within a business setting and has been correlated to superior job performance, low turnover, high dedication, high employee engagement and high job satisfaction.
All nice words. What does it mean for an executive to go above and beyond in modeling and encouraging good organizational citizenship? What do you tolerate? When I was a new manager, getting my bearings, I was more likely to tolerate brilliant employees who made great contributions to the work but who were rude and patronizing to others. I never quite let go of that but I tried to put other institutional norms in place that made that kind of behavior less and less acceptable.
For example, we had a “Lunch with a Leader” program, during which, once a quarter, any employee could ask any senior executive out for lunch, expense it and pick their brain about the company, the job, their career, whatever. We had a yearly “Lunch with a Colleague” program. At the end of our January kick-off meeting, each employee was handed a piece of paper that told what local restaurant they were to head to, where they’d have lunch with a group of colleagues they didn’t work with everyday. Each table had a “host” who kept the conversation flowing and paid the bill. My CFO would shake his head in mock disgust.
We tried having Service Auctions for charity: employees would auction a service, e.g., golf lessons, baking cookies, bringing in lunch, etc., and all proceeds would go to the charity we had voted on as an organization. It was successful but something that couldn’t be repeated too often.
We put together a social responsibility committee, a team that looked for volunteer opportunities in our neighborhood and would organize small groups of employees to take on half-day projects. This allowed employees to get to know others whom they might not have worked with regularly, feel good about our organization that allowed this kind of activity and it “cost” us no more than a few hours a quarter per person. Participation was voluntary and we asked staff to volunteer for no more than one project a year.
These sanctioned activities had a positive impact on corporate culture and, I believe, on our performance. When the recession hit in 2007-2008 a cross-department group of younger employees spontaneously formed and came to me asking if they could look for ways to cut costs and present their recommendations to me. They found some, too. But please do not think that everyone embraced these activities. We had our share of staff that believed that I wasted time, money, energy and productivity on too many non-work things. Our financial performance served as my answer.
I do want to give two examples of “Above and Beyond” that stand out for me as I write this, one from a long time ago, one very recent. When I first met my assistant, Ms. A, I worked at a magazine publishing company that had 159 titles devoted to men’s interests and there were only a smattering of women in the organization. One day early on was a particularly tough one and I was at my wit’s end. Ms. A called my husband, whom she had never met. Somehow she convinced him that 1) I had had a terrible day; 2) he should send me flowers; 3) she would take care of everything; and, 4) just tell her how much he would like to spend and give her a credit card number. When my flowers were delivered I realized that this woman had unrealized and unappreciated talents and I could NOT do without her.
My second example is very recent. Many of my readers know that I have an aunt – my mother’s older sister – who is very dear to me and is approaching 96. Last year she shattered her hip and is pretty much confined to a wheelchair. She lives with her granddaughter, around the corner from her son and daughter-in-law, and everyone, including another granddaughter who lives a distance away, takes extremely good care of her. They have a great aide who spends the day with her and various members of the family take her out to dinner and or go on drives regularly.
Last week they took her bowling! She always loved bowling and they took her, wheelchair and all, to a bowling alley, set up the metal lane to help her roll her ball from her wheelchair. She beat some of them, too. I can’t think of anything that better exemplifies “Above and Beyond!”