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To Engage Employees, Quit Relying On Your Gut


Editor’s note: This article was originally posted on on November 8, 2016.

(March 13, 2017) – My gut has been getting an inordinate amount of attention lately. Both my physician and wife continue to stress that I need to get my diet under control and aim for a more toned mid-section. What they fail to realize, however, is that my rotund mid-section has been my professional superpower for years. I’ve used it to navigate many sticky situations in my chosen field of human resources.

Kidding aside, the unfortunate reality is that, by trusting my gut in managing human resource matters, I wholly neglect alternative tools, namely objective measures that produce quantifiable, defensible, justified data.

Imagine if a CFO were to present financials and supporting metrics to his board that he came up with “from his gut.” Or if a CMO shared that the results of a recent marketing campaign were successful because her gut told her so. There’s no way this type of commentary would satisfy inquiring minds who rely on specific data sets to make strategic decisions about their business.

So if driving strategy “from the gut” isn’t acceptable in finance or marketing, why would anyone feel it’s acceptable in human resources? It’s time for human resources leaders to stop relying on their gut and start relying on objective, timely and thorough data.


Measuring True Engagement

Nowhere is this shift from trusting one’s gut to relying on actual data more important than in measuring employee engagement.

Conversations around employee engagement and workplace culture are pervasive in today’s business environment. Various pieces in newspapers, magazines, journals, articles, podcasts, and the like all talk about the importance of engagement and how increasing it leads to improved business results.

The part of the conversation that is conspicuously missing, however, is how to know whether or not you’re achieving it. How do you know if engagement has improved? And, simply put, how do you measure employee engagement?

It’s been generally accepted that we can’t improve what we don’t measure. As it applies to employee engagement, having an idea about an objective current state is paramount to knowing whether engagement-related strategies are having an impact. For example, if I work out for six weeks but see no difference in my strength, I will naturally change my workout strategy. The exercise plan is the strategy and whether I increase my strength is the measure.

Businesses adopt the same process. For instance, sales teams measure improvement by keeping track of new net sales and customer attrition. Operations teams measure implementation timing or the time it takes to answer customer requests. Marketing teams measure sourced/converted leads and costs of new client acquisition. It’s time for human resources teams to adopt similar measurement rigor around employee engagement.

Employee engagement is the most important factor driving workplace efficiency and productivity, and engagement surveys are the most effective way to measure it. Choosing a valid engagement survey measurement tool is imperative. When choosing a survey tool, you should ensure that it:

  • Evaluates underlying employee psychological conditions of meaning, safety and capacity. This is in contrast to surveys that simply measure employee happiness or satisfaction.
  • Accounts for both benchmarking (annual) and pulse (quarterly) surveys so that you can effectively implement an ongoing cadence of measure and improvement.
  • Gives you immediate and easily understandable survey reports so that you can clearly gauge your team’s engagement and pinpoint where to focus your future efforts to improve it.

If you are “trusting your gut” to determine whether your employees are engaged, it’s time to take the plunge into HR legitimacy and adopt a true engagement measurement cadence. This includes using an engagement survey and gathering data from your employees with an annual benchmarking survey and quarterly check-in surveys. Only then will you have effectively embarked on an engagement-centric measure and improve cadence. Anything less will result in a disservice to your business and your employees and will limit your ability to reap the benefits of an engaged workforce.


Want to measure your employee engagement, but not sure where to start? Check out our 10 Employee Survey Questions to Inform Your Engagement Strategy guide for tips.

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