Help! I Need an Employee to Go the Extra Mile

A lot of 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?”

The first question managers should ask is: why does it matter? After all, if an employee is performing well enough to meet the requirements and expectations of their job, how much difference does that make to you as a manager?

In some cases, it may be that the company culture is one of continuous improvement and there is pressure on you as a manager to constantly improve the performance of your team. It may be that the employee in question has requested a special benefit or accommodation and in order to earn it they must do more. Another possibility is that the employee is either interested in a promotion or is being considered for one—and you know they could get the job if they demonstrated more extra mile results.


Unless going the extra mile is a requirement based on one of these scenarios, evaluate whether your motivation to push this employee is in their best interest. Let the employee know, next time you meet one-on-one, what you’ve observed about their performance and that you see opportunities for them to go the extra mile and earn more. Give them the opportunity to ask you for more details or to explain why their priority might not be to go the extra mile right now.


Motivation—Don’t Go There

Usually when managers ask me about getting an employee to go the extra mile they talk in terms of motivation. They often say something like, “Why don’t they try just a little bit harder? Why not do just a little bit more? I want this employee to meet and exceed expectations—on their own initiative!”

The unsatisfying answer I give them is this: if you want people to go the extra mile, you have to explain extra mile expectations as part of your regular one-on-one meetings. If going the extra mile is the expectation, you have to explain frequently and enthusiastically that going the extra mile is what is expected!

The reason that answer is unsatisfying, I’ve come to realize, is that this whole “extra mile” thing has deeper implications for some managers. They are trying to get at some constellation of character traits—work ethic, motivation, commitment, energy, or effort.

I say, don’t go there. Why bother? As Seth Godin puts it, “Humans are unique in their ability to willingly change. We can change our attitude, our appearance and our skillset. But only when we want to.” In other words, you probably can’t make someone care, and it wouldn’t be appropriate in your management relationship anyway. But you can require that employees step up their performance by breaking it down and spelling it out.


Make an Extra Mile List

What would be all the ways that an employee, doing their job best as they can, could take extra moments in between 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 one-on-one meetings:

  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, what are some extra ways you can add value? This will give you a lot of perspective.
  2. Ask every one of your direct reports to make an Extra Mile List for themselves. Before you meet to collaborate on a list together, ask your direct reports what they think their Extra Mile List should look like. That will tell you a lot about their own expectations of themselves.
  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. Together, create a working Extra Mile List for that employee. Remember, this is always a work in progress.
  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 do not score a lot of extra mile points. For those who do, provide recognition, reinforcement, and tangible rewards whenever you can. For those who don’t, ask once in a while, “Why not?”

By making the opportunity to go the extra mile concrete, you give a lot more people the chance to excel in ways they may not have ever come up with on their own. They might not ever have realized it was something they could or should do, or that you actually expected them to do. Empower people by telling them, “These are opportunities where you can excel. Go get ‘em!”



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