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Discretionary Behaviours

Article Written by John Berry on 30th November 2015. Revised 3rd December 2017.

Every manager relies on discretionary behaviour from their staff.

Discretionary behaviour contributes positively to overall organisational effectiveness, contributing to operational and organisational outcomes. But what IS discretionary behaviour.

First of all, what is behaviour? Behaviour sits between motivation and performance. If we are motivated, we behave in a particular way. That behaviour causes performance.

From a practical perspective, the work a person does and the performance they achieve or should achieve is defined in their job description, in day to day instructions given by their manager and in day to day objectives jointly agreed between the employee and their manager.

But if employees only did what was defined, they would not exhibit high performance in the eyes of their managers. There’s more to achieving performance than just defined behaviours. Discretionary behaviour can therefore be defined as all those other activities beneficial to the organisation that are not so defined.

Discretionary behaviour primarily defines the organisational citizenship behaviours (OCBs) that make the organisation function. OCBs are the glue between the defined behaviours. OCBs is a specific thread of research pioneered by Denis Organ of Indiana University in the USA.

Employees feel inclined to undertake discretionary behaviour when they feel engagement with the job and are committed to the organisation. Engagement and commitment cause employees to be motivated to apply effort into those ill-defined, glue tasks. Employees often cease to exhibit discretionary behaviour when the psychological contract is breached.

Discretionary behaviour is... discretionary. It is for the manager to win from an employee.

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