Slavish Devotion to Employee Engagement Scores
How slavishly do we need to track every micro-change in our employee engagement scores? What is the ultimate purpose of measuring engagement?
I had a great conversation the other day about employee engagement with Christian Codrington from BC HRMA. He posed a couple of thought provoking questions about getting the most out of employee engagement surveys. Christian noted that high engagement scores do not guarantee business performance and expressed caution about measuring for the sake of measuring. Both are important points. Here are a few words of clarification and continuation of that discussion.
The value of engagement:
We know through research and experience that employee engagement has a significant impact on business results, e.g., on:
- employee effort, motivation and productivity—which are very valuable;
- absenteeism and turnover—which are very expensive; and
- customer service and living your core values—priceless.
Improvements in employee engagement can add millions of dollars to the bottom line.
“When you are talking about the contributions of hundreds or thousands of individuals, what you’re really looking at is a very broad spectrum that goes from the bare minimum that an employee will do to avoid getting fired to the very best job that a person is capable of. The difference in productivity between those two polar extremes is astronomical.” (Frederick W. Smith)
Employee engagement scores:
In general, it is very important to understand the level of employee engagement in your firm and the impact it is having on the success of your organization—which can change over time. As Codrington noted in our discussion: “I have seen numerous examples where engagement scores are high (or low) and company performance is going in the opposite direction and doesn’t change anytime soon thereafter.” Conclusion: Employee engagement is not the only driver of business performance and so we need to assess engagement in the broader context of business strategy, market conditions and so on.
Nevertheless, if business is tough, there is value in having employees that are engaged (motivated, hardworking, careful and focused) versus disengaged (complacent, careless and distracted). Likewise, when times are great, high employee engagement is more likely to support sustainability, flexibility and capacity for renewal.
Managing employee engagement is most valuable when it strategic, i.e., when it serves the business and helps drive the strategic agenda forward. We do not manage employee engagement simply to make employees happy for the sake of being happy, but rather to help our employees be happy and successful in their jobs in a way that has the biggest positive impact on the success of our organization and its stakeholders. Engagement is not about raw energy, inspiration, pleasure, or blind commitment, but needs to be shaped, i.e., we need to align employee engagement (and culture in general) with our organization’s unique vision, strategy and core values.
If your engagement surveys are pop quizzes that only give you a few simple measures of general employee engagement (high or low, but no how or why), they will not be very valuable for identifying specific opportunities for improvement. If on the other hand, your surveys are substantive, they will help you identify specific opportunities for improvements and drivers of organizational success.
In addition to asking questions about the general experience of working at the firm (job satisfaction, sense of achievement, willingness to make referrals, etc.), a substantive employee engagement survey also asks employees about:
- how well they are being supervised, managed and led,
- how well the organization is being run, and
- the extent to which employees are living the core values.
At the end of the day, the survey is just a tool—and only one way to gauge engagement. Just like a performance evaluation form, the employee engagement survey is not an end in itself. It is not about the survey. It is all about the discussion that the survey data enables.
The ultimate objective:
What is the ultimate purpose of all of this? We are certainly not measuring for the sake of measuring. This is not a math quiz or video game. The purpose and benefits of measuring employee engagement include:
- Understanding the impact of engagement on the success in your business
- Identifying concrete opportunities for improvement
- Validating your efforts (the impact of your improvement efforts)
- Assessing employee readiness for greater challenges, learning and change
Beyond that, the ultimate purpose of optimizing your employee engagement scores is to put that engagement to work, i.e., take that engagement for a spin for the good of the business.
Think about what the word “engagement” means. Think of gears being engaged in a car: they are busy, occupied, working and meshed. We want our employees, likewise, to be busy and working, but not merely as cogs in the machine. We need our employees to be interested, involved, committed—and skilled. We want them to be embedded in our team and culture—willing ambassadors for our organization. We want them to care about the work they are doing—care about the success of our business as a whole and the experience of our customers.
We work on improving engagement scores so that we can engage our employees in doing the most important work of the business.
Once employee engagement is more or less optimized (not necessary “maximized” but “optimized,” i.e., where we need the scores to be relative to our HR and business strategies) it becomes less and less important to track micro-changes in the scores.
Aside from large changes and major variances in the scores (e.g., variances between regions, functions and so on), it is less about the measurement and more about the employee engagement itself and our collaborative practices, i.e., how and where we want to engage our employees.
There is a two-way causality here. First, we need our employees to be motivated enough to help us with our toughest challenges and biggest opportunities, and to take initiative and ownership for our success. And second, engaging employees in important work enhances their motivation; it is motivating to be included, challenged, learning, growing and part of something meaningful.
That’s what employee engagement is all about: directing employee energy, interest and commitment into skill development, personal growth, collaborative practices, continuous improvement and business development.
Thank you Mr. Codrington. Looking forward to our next discussion.
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