Stop Measuring Engagement and Create it!

Kevin Kruse, author of "Employee Engagement 2.0," writes in Forbes that the way to measure engagement isn't to look for happiness or satisfaction, but to find those employees who truly care about the company's mission, and take action to further the success of the company even when no one else is paying attention.  They are "emotionally committed."

Photo credit: mnadi / Foter / CC BY-NC

We've all taken those employee engagement surveys at work, right?  The ones that ask about our levels of satisfaction with our jobs, and what we think about our management.  At best, these surveys give employees a chance to anonymously give feedback in a constructive way, and management and HR will take the opportunity to truly and openly evaluate the results and make needed changes.  At worst, they are time-wasting rubber stamps from employees who have so little trust they don't even give true answers.  These surveys don't tell us anything about whether our employees are emotionally committed and willing to go the extra mile for the company's success.

At one employer of mine, employee engagement survey completion was required.  Once results were reported, the departmental groupings were so small that even though the vendor had combined some teams, it was still obvious who was dissatisfied.  Instead of taking that to heart and working on solving the identified problems, the teams were subjected to meetings with directors, who quizzed them about what, specifically they weren't happy about.  In other words, the employee engagement survey was used to identify who was complaining, and then target them for interrogation.

Another example from a colleague involved a highly dysfunctional department with a low level of trust in management.  When employee engagement results came back as disappointing (surprise!), the department was gathered together at a big meeting, where the individual contributors were tasked with solving the problem themselves and reporting back to management.  This strategy may have been very effective with a high-functioning team, but in this department, it sent the message that management wasn't willing to own the problem along with the rest of the department, and participate in creating solutions.

As Tony Schwartz, co-author of "The Power of Full Engagement" recently wrote in The New York Times, "What companies really need to measure is not how engaged their employees are, but rather how consistently energized they feel."  Imagine a workplace where we take the time and resources that were previously used on sterile surveys, and actually communicate with one another.  Managers can display vulnerability and honesty, and true appreciation for the work their employees do.  Coaching and performance improvement comes from a place of true aligned goals and a vision for success that's shared by team members.

Bottom Line:  engagement isn't a simple matter.  It's intertwined with culture and communication in a way that can't be measured by a survey.  Let's stop pretending that we can pay lip service to engagement and check a box.

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