By now, you probably understand the many issues I take up with measuring employee engagement. If not, check out the other posts in this series to understand my thoughts on how we measure engagement, what metrics we’re measuring and what we do with the data we collect from our efforts. We’ve covered many of the reasons measuring engagement is likely a waste of your time and resources. To wrap up, we’ll cover what is missing from the practice of measuring engagement.

DEATH BY A THOUSAND PAPER CUTS 

If I put on my executive hat, I’m looking at the engagement survey—although not closely—and comparing it to thousands of other things going on across the organization. If I have silos across my organization, each department focuses on their area of expertise and conducts their own assessments. Each survey has its own drivers of success—from the benefits offered to the type of furniture in our space. Where to start? 

Most engagement surveys don’t ask about the physical work environment. If they do, it exists only as a token question, far removed from the bulk of “traditional” organizational concepts— like pride, inclusion and diversity. Questions on this matter, though. Take a naturally self-motivated person, eager to take on the world. If you put me in the janitor’s closet with a calculator and a note pad, chances are that I won’t be engaged for much longer. 

What if we measured engagement in a way that highlighted the entire employee experience? What if we compared items across company functions to determine which areas need the most help now AND later? Without comparison, and relative-scoring, a leader is forced to split resources among department silos instead of dedicating resources to where they will have the most impact today versus tomorrow. 

Take a company who has high satisfaction with benefits and a low turnover rate. They have pain points in technology and the workplace. In this case, HR should celebrate the win, and management should focus resources helping IT and CRE to make the largest impact possible to employees. 

ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS

It turns out that the early wisdom our moms gave us as kids continues to be profoundly useful in today’s quickly-evolving world. Engagement surveys are based on attitudinal data, or how employees think and feel. These assessments are missing an important part of the picture—how employees act. 

An employee can tell us they understand a procedure. When behaviors show they skip steps, take twice as long to complete tasks and make more errors, we are forced to reconcile the difference between what they say and what they do. Humans are complex. There is ample literature that shows how our own personal biases not only influence our decisions but how other people, businesses and governments use this knowledge to shape our decisions without our awareness. Courses in leadership and personal decision making today focus on challenging our own notions—questioning information we are given, our first thoughts and our instincts. Yet, today we still act on feedback that is largely unchecked by real-world evidence. 

Employee sentiment is crucial, but anyone with children, patients, employees or friends even, will tell you that there is more to the story than what we say. People say they want an office, but they spend less than 10 percent of time at their office. People say they don’t feel included, but they don’t spend time nurturing relationships or building social capital. 

What if we could pair both attitudinal and behavioral data? If we are truly trying to help make work better, it is time that we provide a clearer picture of our work. It is time to change the old saying from “do as I say, not as I do” to the more responsible “do as I do”. Those are the kinds of people and organizations that I want to follow and be a part of, what about you?