Measuring things has been a hallmark of accountability in business for decades. There have been books, articles, and blog posts written extolling the benefits and importance of quality metrics. I’m not trying to discount the value that comes from metrics, but I do want to challenge how our response to metrics influences the quality of our behavior…especially regarding employee engagement.

employee-engagementI have seen so many different models regarding engagement measures. I have seen tiering where those poor unfortunate souls who end up in the bottom tier are put on the equivalent of a division/department performance improvement plan. Obviously a boon for improving engagement (said very tongue in cheek). There have been various efforts to “improve” from a 3.99 to a 4.09 within a specified time period. All of these efforts have been done with the best intentions, but they rarely improve actual engagement.

The fault in this logic is that the focus of effort is on improving the measure, and rarely serves to improve actual engagement. Imagine yourself on that low tier team. You have your regular job responsibilities, any other enterprise-wide change initiative, and then the added work that is “designed” to help you get out of that low tier. No one wants to live there, so when the re-survey rolls around, you answer more positively to move the measure and stop the extra work. Did engagement improve? No. It probably worsened, but the measure improved so those who care about that kind of thing are pacified and the magnifying glass moves elsewhere in the organization.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when addressing engagement:

  1. Dialogue – Don’t put all your engagement eggs in the survey basket. Engagement is about the human experience. Don’t diminish it to some quantitative analysis of snapshot viewpoints. Create a culture where dialogue between managers and employees is the norm, not the exception.
  2. Support – When engagement survey numbers are lower than expected, seek to understand and support. While typically unintentional, most engagement interventions feel more punitive than developmental. There are legitimate reasons and leaders in that area are already dealing with productivity issues that are influenced by low engagement; the last thing they need is a target on their back.
  3. Drivers – Do you know what the engagement drivers are for your organization? Do you know the variance in engagement drivers  among the various functions/divisions/departments within your organization? Does Marketing have the same engagement drivers as IT? My trick knee says no. When you understand the drivers, you get closer to the root cause instead of merely treating the symptoms – the measure – of engagement woes.

Engagement is a complex, multi-faceted affair and we can’t use a linear approach to solution development. How we measure is important for validation and statistical integrity. How we respond to that data is much more important for the overall development of our organizations. People’s engagement is not a collection of data points, it is a very personal experience that happens through relationships and overall climate within the context of work. If that is how engagement develops, then the solution must be met through the same context…not simply moving data points to satisfy dashboard requirements. How can you and your organization approach engagement measures more meaningfully?