How To Fix Our Flawed Employee Contracts. And Our Broken Organizations

 “My sole objective is to increase the “Share of Shower” my employees are willing to give me”

I’ll never forget that weirdly evocative line by the Head of Innovation at 3M a decade ago.

“Share of Shower”

What the…

The point he was making was that if he could create the perfect environment (of deeply interesting challenges and insanely-curious people) then, his innovation teams would be thinking about these interesting challenge in the one place universally acknowledged as a hot bed of creative thinking.

The shower.

Increasing his “Share of Shower” was merely a wonderful way of illustrating the outcome of creating the right environment – and the right culture – to achieve the business outcome he, and 3M, were seeking.

Better ideas. More often.

The metaphor has stuck with me because it perfectly encapsulates one of the hardest, but most coveted, manifestations of the culture that many leaders aspire to create.

“How do I create an environment where my people are so intrinsically motivated that they will freely give me the very best of their passion, their new ideas and their commitment?”

Intrinsically motivated meaning that internal rewards – not money, not title nor large corner offices – are the key driver.

Freely because this is something that the employee gifts to the employer. Not the other way around.

Read the sentence above again slowly.

The employee gifts it to the employer.

Not the other way around.

South African workplace guru Etsko Schuitema calls this “discretionary effort” 

I adore the concept of “discretionary effort” because it truly is at the discretion of the employee to give it. 

Discretionary effort is something that organizations and leaders earn, not something they can demand or expect. 

It’s something that goes beyond the contractual agreement that so much of our workforce orientation still sadly revolve around.

Contracts that read like this:

I, Employer A, will give you this largely ambiguous title, this debatably competitive compensation, this somewhat random selection of benefits in exchange you, Employee B, will give me no less than 40 hours each week, for 50 weeks each year to complete these series of regularly changing, amorphously defined tasks.

A contract that binds our companies and our people together legally.

Legally binding when what we really need is to emotionally unbind our people. 

Unbind them to create their best work. 

Unbind them to bring forward their best ideas. 

And to unbind them to create new programs, products and profits that drive business growth.

That doesn’t happen because of a clause the employer gets the employee to sign in a legal contract.

That happens because a leader creates an environment where the employee feels they are cared for and the employee genuinely believes their growth is of paramount importance to their employer. 

Care is not a word that most organizations would ever consider putting in their contracts.

And few leaders equate as part of their roles.

Similarly, growth is not a word typically found in any employee contract.

Yet ironically, growth is the critical business objective that all employees are tasked to deliver. 

If we want to create an environment and a culture that creates “discretionary effort”, then the contract we really should be striving for, is one that reads like this:

I, Employer A, solemnly commit to care for you as human being, not treat you merely as a expendable resource or a tool of commerce, and commit to your growth, to build – rather than exploit - the deep talents and unique skills you bring to this organization, in exchange, Employee B,  for an equitable commitment of your energy, enthusiasm and drive and as much of your discretionary effort and commitment as you believe our organization deserves.”

Let’s finally acknowledge that the contract that exists between employer and employee today is fatally flawed and terribly broken.

We desperately need a new contract for the new world of work.

A contract designed to create discretionary effort, not just discretionary income.

A contract designed for human beings, not for human “resources”.

If, as leaders, we want to earn more “Share of Shower” then it’s time we all made a clean start.


For a more eloquent and richer articulation of the “Care & Growth” model by dear friend Angela Donnelly, read this great piece.