Engagement Surveys Are Played Out

I read another engagement survey study and was shocked (not really) to see that engagement levels have not changed in 20+ years (still around 30%.) I was also shocked (not really) to see that drivers of engagement are the same as 20 years ago (meaningful work, recognition, development, communication.) And imagine my surprise (not really) to find that companies with higher engagement are more profitable (by over 4X.) Shocking (not really.)

Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted
— W. B. Cameron (not Einstein, shocking)

I'm not saying that engagement shouldn't be measured AND I think for most companies it is a wasted measure. For many in this country, it is like having a bath scale...weighing yourself won't make you weigh less. I used to consult for companies whose executives would say "we want to do an engagement survey." My typical response was, "no, you don't." The same goes for "I want to know how much I weigh." - No, you don't. Because, it's not about what you want, it's about WHY you want it and WHAT you are willing and ready to do to get it. If executives has instead said, "We understand that organizations with higher engagement perform better, we'd like to improve our performance and we are ready and willing to invest X,XXX,XXX dollars to improve employee engagement, we'd like to get a baseline on areas we'd like to target for improvement." Then by all means, let's do a study. If it is "we just want to know how people feel" (hint: 70% are less happy than you would like...according to 20+ years of studies already done) then do a few focus groups.

If nothing changes, nothing changes
— Courtney Stevens

Everyone likes change. Everyone wants to be in better shape. Everyone wants to have more financial security. Everyone wants to see more sights. But very few people want to eat less, spend less, and spend more time in a car or airport. It's not the change people dread, it's the transition. For my beloved wife, she LOVES to be other places...she hates to travel. Therein lies the reason engagement has not changed in 20+ years. The things that are need for transition, are not the things people either want to admit or actually do something about. 

You manage things; you lead people
— Rear Admiral Grace Hopper

People often see the symptom as the problem and they try to fix the symptom. This is why we have engagement numbers that go no where and obesity rates that seem to climb. Addressing the symptom is poor problem solving. The problem isn't that we are overweight as a culture...it's that we don't put good food in our bodies. Similarly, it isn't that we have an engagement problem, it's that we don't put good people in leadership roles. When the #1 factor in employee engagement, performance, and turnover is the manager...and those numbers are not what you want, it's time to look at what is responsible for it and change it.

Paychecks can’t buy passion
— Brad Federman

Any health professional will tell you, you can't exercise your way out of a bad diet. Yes, exercise is good but it will have a VERY limited impact on your weight if you don't change your diet. This is the same for leadership development. Despite the annual rise in leadership development spending (over $90.6 BILLION last year) the engagement gap persists, turnover concerns linger, and employee malaise continues. You can't train yourself out of a bad manager selection process. Training for managers is good, it makes the good ones better, but it doesn't necessarily make the bad ones good.

The key to creativity is hiding your sources
— Anonymous

Measuring engagement won't make engagement go up any more than weighing yourself will make your weight go down. Simply knowing the number doesn't change anything. If you want to lose weight, you have to admit you are bad at picking out good food. If you want to improve engagement, you have to admit you are probably bad at picking leaders. The #1 correlation between manager success or failure in a new leadership role is the level of support of those around her/him. Not leadership agility, not emotional intelligence, and certainly not past individual contribution. We often measure things we think are objective to predict success but measuring how a person manages "things" is a poor predictor of how she/he leads "people."

If you want to know how someone will show up as a leader and whether they have the support of the team they are about to lead...keep it simple and ask them.


Dave NeedhamComment