As I’ve made clear in the first post in this series, I fully believe in the power employee engagement has to create happy, productive employees. My issue with the concept stands with how we measure engagement, what metrics we’re measuring and what we do with the data we collect from our efforts. We’ve already covered the flaws in how we collect data on engagement in the workplace. Now, it’s time to move on to what kind of information we’re collecting—and in the long term using to influence our businesses.


At Gallup, one of the largest engagement survey providers in the world, a question about having a best friend in the office is an important part of their assessment. This makes sense from a theoretical and practical stance. If you really do spend time with a best friend while working, it makes sense that you would likely be happier overall (and hopefully more efficient) than you would be without that person. The problem is actionability. 

Actionability, to me, is how usable your information is for the customer. If implemented, how valuable will this data prove to be to the end-user? If your customers don’t find value in it, it is time to change the approach. 

Apply this to the question of what to do with data on friendship. What is a leader to do if their team scores low on this item? Can they force friendship between their employees? Would they even want to? I’ve heard it all, from “I run a business, not a frat house,” to “I engage my employees by paying them.” Either way, the question doesn’t seem to give leaders a course of action to improve. 

Too often, I see the self-proclaimed smart people get stuck in education, theory, research and nuance. Along the way, the need for “statistical significance” completely replaces the idea of practical significance. The smart guys forget who their client is. Before you know it, they find themselves creating rules and quotas to make the business listen to their data. Annual engagement survey action planning, anyone?

Like many others, I tried to defend the logic, the theory, the amount of variance explained—to no avail. I forgot to truly listen. You might have great questions, but if the business doesn’t use it, you have a dud. Knowing that is good. It forces you to listen better and get creative. What DOES the business need and how can we provide it in a way that will inspire action? That is the direction we need to be heading. 


Fun fact: the original, and largest “engagement” surveys weren’t created to measure engagement. They were created as broad, organizational diagnostics. They rebranded when the term “engagement” became popular in the business world. Today, the modern engagement survey measures how satisfied we are with the artifacts offered within the organization—the things you see, touch and feel in the workplace every day. 

What it does not measure is what lies beyond the paint on the walls or the bonuses received at the end of the year: culture. The famous Peter Drucker line, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” is still largely quoted by leaders. However, most don’t measure the underlying values and beliefs of their own organizations. We have made our modern satisfaction survey synonymous with a culture study—leaving us all confused. 

You can, and hopefully do, use artifacts to reinforce your organization’s culture. If not, you run the risk of turning employees off. If you are only measuring satisfaction with workplace artifacts and not the underlying culture, you might be missing the whole story. For example, you build a game room with a pool table, but no one dares utilize it due to the perception that the organization values time-at-desk, not goofing off. 

What if we were able to measure both the artifacts and the deeper values of the organization at the same time? Would this provide deeper insights? Could we create more actionable insights? Would this help us to become more proactive?

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