Engagement, retention even activism…Traditional models of employee engagement are getting a bit tired. They are starting to look the same, smell the same, and feel the same.
There was a joke amongst Psychology students many years ago when they asked: ‘What’s intelligence?’ and the answer was: ‘Whatever is measured by tests of intelligence’. We are running the same risk: employee engagement is whatever numbers come from Employee Engagement surveys. It’s a growing industry. Executives of all sorts are asking their HR colleagues, “Can we have one of these?” Or perhaps, “we must have one of these”.
Who could argue against having ‘some numbers’ that tell you how employees feel? Ah! The fascination with numbers! And what do you do with them? Ah!, you try to make sense of them, which is usually translated into lots of presentations to several layers of management. And then? Ah!, you must do something about it. Which is usually translated into more meetings about what to do. And then? Action plans. And then? Follow-up meetings? And then? Then, it will be time for another Employee Engagement Survey.
It’s better to have those numbers than not having a clue about the climate of the company.
The serious question is what to do with those numbers.
Believe me, I am far from cynical. I am describing an organizational ritual. And rituals have a key role in organizations. They tend to do good, glue and align people, make collective sense, provide maps, boost a sense of belonging etc. They are not that good at solving problems, though. It’s better to have those numbers than not having a clue about the climate of the company. The serious question is what to do with those numbers other than ‘try to boost them’.
I wrote an article many years ago: ‘Prisoners of the numbers’. Where I aired my frustration at seeing Boards managing Earnings per Share (EPS) and share prices, not the organization, not the people, not the purpose. Little has changed.
I very much welcome the sub-industry of Employee Engagement providing it’s not about number-management, the discussion of an up and down scale, and the comparison with a neighbour. Many tools provide excellent, beautiful, sophisticated, expensive answers to the wrong questions. I have yet to know of an organization that defines engagement first and then creates its survey. Most I know ‘use that survey’… because they can. Time to rethink?
The Shortest Employee Engagement Survey Has One Question
And the question is: ‘Why are you still here?’
You learn about the organization by asking questions to employees when they leave you (exit interviews) but you learn far more when you ask them why they are staying (‘stay’ interviews). It’s not a joke. ‘Why are you still here?’ – with the emphasis on the word still – it’s the best Employee Engagement survey you can have. It’s also very cheap and you don’t need an external agency.
It’s the only question that allows the person to respond with something like ‘I need to pay my mortgage’ (I have never seen an Employee Engagement survey with this kind of answer). Also, possibly, ‘It’s the best place I could dream to work in’, and anything in between. We are so afraid of direct questions that we tend to ask people things in complicated ways. I have practiced this with clients many times and I have always got the richest of answers. Believe me, a one-question questionnaire is a dream.
‘The best employee engagement programme is one that doesn’t exist because it is not needed. To design an employee engagement programme, think of what the organization that doesn’t need one looks like. Then shape that one. If you can.’
Vignette from my book: The Flipping Point – Deprogramming Management
The Flipping Point – Deprogramming Management
A flipping point in the trend for adopting absurd management ideas needs to be reached. Management needs to be deprogrammed. This book of 200 tweet-sized vignettes looks at the other side of things. It ask us to apply more rigour and critical thinking in the way we use assumptions and management practices that were created many years ago.