Monday, September 15, 2014

Looking Under the Lamp Post

You know the old joke about the drunk looking for his keys under the lamp post. It's not where he lost them but it's where he can see. Sometimes it seems that way with measures of employee engagement. A recent article featuring Gallup's take on it, and they've been studying the issue for a decade and half or longer, shows that employee engagement hasn't changed in the past 15 years despite a moderate amount of emphasis on it. Gallup bases engagement on high answers to 12 questions. The 12 questions deal with company social and communication interactions, mostly with the manager or supervisor. To their credit, they don't ask about company events or benefits, but to the quality of the relationships with the manager and peers, and the employee's attitudes towards their work.

However, when we think about the definition of engagement--that the employee is putting their best effort towards the success of the organization--none of the questions ask about that attitude. Engagement is simply not measured. The questions deal with the conditions that support organizational success but don't really deal with the engagement issue. They claim that a few questions address the "What do I give?" aspect of engagement; questions like "do I have the opportunity to do what I do best?" and "is there someone who encourages my development?" However, I've worked with people--and been one myself--where they would have answered "yes" or "strongly agree" to those kinds of questions but they could care less if the organization succeeded. The questions don't get at the passion someone has for the mission of the organization. The questions don't get at the confidence that individuals and the organization can be successful and that they can contribute meaningfully to that success.

It might be that Collins' Hedgehog Principle is missing. In order to be great, we have to feel strongly about what we're doing, be exceptional at it--and manage to get paid profitably for it. Gallup addresses the second and third aspects of an employee's work life, but they fail to grasp the employee's passion. Perhaps they believe it won't be there. Or it's irrelevant. Gallup's Twelve Questions focus on feedback to the person's job performance, which may or may not be contributing to success. How many times have we all performed exceptionally well but it hasn't made any difference on the organization's results? Haven't you seen strategic reviews where all the tier 2, 3, 4... level goals have been accomplished but the main corporate goals have fallen short?

We also know engagement is dependent on a level of loyalty. Loyalty is a two-way street. You will not be loyal to someone who has been disloyal to you. In this age of multiple-company careers, how much loyalty can there be? Is this the cause of the stagnation in the engagement numbers over the past decade?

As much as I admire Gallup and their efforts to shed light on what's happening in the workplace, they're looking at the areas that can be measured but not necessarily where the keys to engagement have been lost.

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