Employee Engagement... It's Not About the Metric

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I am sure that many of us have had at least one experience where a boss who is typically indifferent comes to work, or into our department and begins acting strange.  They might be smiling, and this is something outside of the norm.  They might have been extra nice to everyone, leaving many confused and wondering what is going on.  The random acts of "hey, look at me! I'm nice and approachable" from leadership usually do not leave people thinking "wow, they sure are nice and approachable."  Often times they might cause others to question your motives, or become concerned about the unusual behavior.

I came across an employee engagement article from Gallup that was posted at the beginning of 2014 entitled Five Ways to Improve Employee Engagement. Two points on this article discuss "coaching managers and holding them accountable for employee engagement," and for leaders to "define engagement goals in realistic, everyday terms."  While specific measurement studies and criteria are addressed in this article, the headers of these two points convey the way employee engagement is narrowly addressed at many organizations.  Managers might take these points à la carte and try to implement them at face value.  If we view engagement metrics as the goal, then it seems that we are really missing the point.  It is understandable that leaders seek to meet their metrics as a way of demonstrating their ability to effectively perform their duties.  This is a metric that might need to go away.  If we are setting goals, then the goals should be measured by behaviors, and be people-focused.  It's the difference between focusing on the end versus the means, and if the means are done correctly, then we'll get the desired result.  If we are looking for a checklist to say "yep, did that," then, at least in this case, I think we are better off not putting it on the list at all.

I don't think that leaders should be measured or held accountable for employee engagement metrics, but for their behaviors with their teams.  While it is true that often their job is to achieve results, if we pressure them to have a positive interaction with their employees, then any results they deliver in employee engagement will likely be short-lived.  I would argue that the vast majority of individuals can tell when someone is inauthentic.  

When we think about engagement, it is important to remember that real employee engagement is emotional.  We can't expect short bursts of interaction to create engagement.  To build true engagement, we need to connect with employees on a personal level.  We need to get to know them.  As we get to know them better, we have the opportunity to build trust and understanding.  And through this process we can gain insight into what they need, as an individual, to be engaged at work.

If we focus on the people, then we won't have to worry about the metric.
Connect with Ben on LinkedIn

Twitter: @ben_patient

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