Guest post by Alexis Katigbak

 

Employee engagement is increasingly part of many organizations’ KPIs. Programs that award organizations as “best places to work” or “ great place to work” almost always include a measure of culture as a factor in making an organization desirable for talent.

The standard for measuring employee engagement often relies on an employee pulse check. These are surveys – long or short, that are sent to employees on an annual, maybe bi-annual basis at best. Gauging company health through its people is admirable, but I have to question whether or not the data collected is really an accurate measure of engagement.

Consider the following sketch …

With all good intentions, a survey is sent at the point in time where engagement is highest. Just the act of taking the survey can lead to an uptick in engagement. This is then taken as the overall measure of engagement across a longer period. This method relies on a single data point to measure something that is constantly in flux. Organizational changes, staff under or over allocation, industry demands and compensation can influence engagement.

What we really should be measuring is the average across many more data points to see how engagement has performed over a period of time. This measurement does not need to be direct. To really get insight into engagement we need to combine explicit measures like the surveys we know, and implicit measures, such as the tone of conversations. Insights into questions such as What tone do casual conversations in the office take? What are people talking about?, and How do people perceive their team members, leaders, and other teams within the organization? are key data points we are currently missing.

Collecting this data can be costly. What we need are approaches that simplify data collection while respecting privacy. One approach is to use social media and communication channels as a way to get insight into what people are talking about and how they are feeling. LinkedIn, for example, already knows what people within a company are reading and sharing as an aggregate of activity within an organization. At some point, it may offer this to companies, though this will probably change what information people are willing to share on LinkedIn!

When trying to measure engagement, we need to find ways to avoid the trap described by Goodhart’s law. “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”

There is an opportunity to increase investment in employee engagement and drive overall productivity results. The key is not to solely rely on long, generic, one-off surveys that ask questions related to engagement in different ways. People who are included in a two-sided conversation which results in efforts to improve culture will naturally become more engaged. So will people who are given opportunities to develop their skills and put them to work. It comes from the commitments people make to each other and the opportunity the company provides for people to grow and realize their potential.

Alexis Katigbak is currently working in product management at Vision Critical. She worked on an early prototype of TeamFit as a student at UBC.