Totally Rethink Employee Engagement

Published January 7, 2016


CultureLeading Organizations

Are you confident in the way you track employee engagement?

It’s a challenging metric to measure, partly because it’s constantly changing and partly because the things that make it up can be hard to define.

TMBC (The Marcus Buckingham Company) has built a whole business around bringing out the strengths in companies’ workforces by helping them pinpoint and address challenges like accurately measuring engagement.

In fact, TMBC worked for years to develop tools like the StandOut Engagement Pulse, which seek to rethink employee engagement and how to measure it.

Their founder and chairman, Marcus Buckingham, stopped by SurveyMonkey’s blog to talk about the issues he sees in today’s employee engagement measures.

Take it away, Marcus!

The future of employee engagement

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an organization in search of performance must focus on employee engagement.

A 2015 Deloitte study found that 87 percent of HR and business leaders thought that “lack of employee engagement” was their top challenge. So we all agree that we should do everything we can to drive engagement across the entire organization. And this is where we go so very, very wrong.

These days, you can’t turn around without finding another list of “best places to work.” And there’s no doubt the places that top these lists have lots of growth opportunities, perks and rewarding work. But ask yourself this: would you rather work for a great boss at the #300 best place to work, or a terrible boss at #1?

The truth is, there is no such thing as a uniformly great place to work. Because whatever your company is like, your team leader is going to determine much more profoundly and directly what your real experience, and therefore your engagement, is at work.

Our approach to engagement has to change radically to take this simple truth into account.

How we’re getting it wrong

Here’s what our engagement process looks like today. We take a pre-existing list of boxes representing our employees, and we use our organizational records to define which boxes report to which other boxes on the org chart. Then we lock in that org structure and send out our engagement survey of perhaps 60–100 questions to all the boxes, er, team members.

The first people to receive the data—six weeks after the survey has been deployed—are the HR function. They get the data, they scrub the data, they go back to the survey vendor and ask them to do some “driver analysis” to see which items drive engagement.

Then they look at the broad patterns revealed in the organization. (“Communication is up this year! Oh, but recognition is down.”) These patterns are then socialized with the CEO first, who then decides to publicize them in a newsletter, or address them in a town hall.

Then, six weeks after that, the person who’s actually on the front lines of that data—the team leader—finally gets it, after every other person in the organization has had their grubby little hands on it.

The team leader looks at the data (n=7) and says, “Wait a minute. I don’t have 7 people on my team. I have 10. Is this my team?” Because the survey happened half a year ago, and the team has changed since then. HR then responds weakly not to worry about it and just do your engagement plan.

We know that we need to measure what we want to improve. So we generate data, all right. But we generate the wrong data for the wrong people at the wrong time in the wrong way. We can do better. We have to do better.

Change Your Approach to Engagement

Use the StandOut Global Engagement Pulse survey template to find out whether your teams are engaged.
Learn More →


This post originally appeared on the Survey Monkey blog, here.

About the Author
Marcus Buckingham

Marcus Buckingham

Best-selling Author; Founder

The Marcus Buckingham Company

Marcus Buckingham is a global researcher and thought leader focused on unlocking people's strengths, increasing their performance, and pioneering the future of how people work. He is head of all people and performance research at the ADP Research Institute and the author of several bestselling books, including StandOut 2.0: Assess Your Strengths, Find Your Edge, Win at Work (Harvard Business Review Press).

Years at GLS 2004, 2007, 2017

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