I know this sounds drastic from someone who has a personal mission statement of helping people to "discover the hero within", who wrote a book on the Art of Engagement, and who has said many times "the things that get measured get done".

But the truth is that the tool has become the goal in far too many cases when it comes to employee/associate engagement.

The engagement score has masked the fact that people - our people - have figured out how to play the "what number do you want" game.

In many cases we have been silent co-conspirators in the game by teaching to the test by letting it be known that we want our engagement numbers to go up. The board is watching and leader incentives are connected to it.

How Effective is Measuring Engagement?

I witnessed more than one executive presentation of engagement numbers that were less than flattering and watched the executive explain the scores and what we were going to do to improve them.

I then asked a few people towards the back of the room what they heard. The answer was, I heard a speech telling us we are better than this, and next year let's rate these issues 9s and 10s so we can get back on the best list.

The numbers have taken on meaning beyond being indicators of insight and aren't helping one of the biggest social problems we face today.

That problem is that 70 percent of our people (I know this is a metric) don't bring the best version of themselves to the workplace.

The even more startling fact is that this number has not changed in 30 years. It has not budged a bit for three decades. Even vexing social problems like cancer and traffic accident deaths have seen significant improvement over the last 30 years.

Everyone is Playing the Game

We are approaching something similar I witnessed in the auto industry years ago where being honored with a customer satisfaction award was pursued at all cost.

The tool became the goal. I can remember a car salesman asking, or even begging for a top score on a satisfaction survey.

He even offered to throw in something extra. Or even worse after I left an emergency room experience for a family member, a nurse asked us to rate the experience a 10. As you can image, it wasn't.

Everyone started to play the game and the game was to get a top score to be on a "best or most" list somewhere.

The idea was simple and it was "we can attract people and customers if we are on these lists". Or minimally we can say we are doing what everyone else is doing to take care of our three main stakeholders: employees, customers, and shareholders.

Its time to do the right thing versus trying to manufacture the right measures, or perpetuate a game that everyone is being trained for the test. It can start with leaders asking four questions and measuring our own actions against these four questions.

The 4 C's of Engagement of Our Leadership

  1. Do we Care about our people's success?
  2. What does it feel like when someone cares? How do you know when someone cares? What difference does caring make? How would your people rate you on being invested in their success?
  3. Are we actively removing Constraints?
  4. Organizational constraints exist that inhibit us from performing at the level that we are capable of performing at. These same constraints exist for our people. Prioritizing, integrating and simplifying what we ask them to focus on can free up capacity and energy. What score would you give yourself in removing constraints and simplifying what we are asking our people to focus? What score would you give yourself on caring about the engagement of your people?
  5. Have we created the conditions for true collaboration?
  6. As we truly understand how great ideas emerge we are beginning to realize that the magic occurs between people in ideation and iteration. It's the great collaborators who enjoy a rewarding and engaging career because they bring out the best in others, which is how they found the best in themselves. Collaborators help others take the real game of contributions and results to the next level. What score would you give yourself as a leader in creating the conditions for true collaboration?
  7. Are we Curious what our people understand and what they think?
  8. Your people are the customers of your strategy. Are you curious what they think? Curious about what they understand and what they don't? Curious about where our people would double down and where they would reallocate resources on our key priorities? What score would you give yourself on how well you understand what our people think and feel about our strategy to win?

It is time to stop measuring the engagement of our people and time to start measuring the 4 C's of engagement of our leadership! If you find you could be doing more in any one of these four areas, I'm going to outline in subsequent blogs the things you can be doing different as a leader to change the culture of your company, get your people more engaged, and drive higher levels of performance.