Recently a speaker told the audience that the best measure of employee engagement was the conversation a colleague had with a partner when they got home. ‘If we could survey that, then we’d have a much better idea of how engaged someone is.’
Yes and no – and also, does it matter?
Yes, because it is these more informal conversations that are often more informative about the mood and morale of an organisation. Surveys invariably measure what an organisation is interested in – and I know of one organisation where the senior managers would regularly go round to their reports in the weeks running up to the Gallup12 and ask them if they were okay, anything concerning them etc. Now, obviously this is a hugely cynical move, but one which profited managers – they all had a engagement KPI in their bonus structure. But aside from the cynicism of this, the concept of an annual or biennial survey is flawed as behavioural economics tells us that we can be very selective in what we remember about past experiences and will often remember the first, last, and peak moments of certain experiences.
I’d also say No, because what we may tell our partners stories that they can relate to or where we might get the most sympathy – or simply we want to update them on a continuing narrative.
So does this matter? Does measuring engagement count for much? The move by big employers to abandon the traditional annual or biennial survey seems to suggest that there’s little merit in measuring this – at least in this way. We’ve seen the rise of more ‘pulse’ products to try and gauge sentiment in real time, or at least less retrospectively.
But the problem still remains – what are we actually measuring and is it important?
There’s a counter argument to the more traditional employee engagement stance, that success and the satisfaction from doing great work drives culture – and in many ways you can see this from high-growth businesses. Yes, so many of them focus on creating a great place to work (slides, ice creams and all); but would it be half as interesting or half as exciting if they weren’t growing, the work wasn’t particularly fulfilling and they didn’t have a compelling business proposition?
Growth matters – just take a look at how obsessed the government and media are about the growth prospects of the UK. Of course, even high-growth businesses can hit the rails. But what is it that pulls them through? A clear vision and honest communication for the most part, but also setting out clear expectations and behaviours (among other things).
Real engagement is being engaged in the vision of an organisation and the work we do – yet we continue to measure everything from the view of CSR to the quality of the coffee in the canteen. If organisations spent as much time focusing on their vision and more honest communications, maybe engagement would sort itself out.