The Real Measure

Data, data, data. It is everywhere these days but what really gets done with it? I mean, well, we monitor it to see if it is changing, we analyze it to see why it is how it is; we keep track of everything we do. Great, right?

Hmmm, well maybe not. I read an article recently that hit the nail on the head for me. It asked: Why DO we have employee engagement surveys?  The answer: To measure engagement, of course.

Not what they are ultimately for.

The whole point of surveys which measure things like engagement, satisfaction, how much we like or don’t like the cafeteria at work is not to simply measure these things, but to begin the journey of moving the needle in the right direction. I mean, why would you only run a survey or a focus group to find out if what level of transparency there is in the organization? Surely, it would be to show your people that what the organization stands for is integrity, that it’s part of the cultural DNA, etc.  If you weren’t actually going to change something, why would you waste time running a survey or a focus group? Yes, they are easy to set up, and if done digitally, do not take very long to run or analyze these days, but why would you do it if you’re not going to finish the job? It’s like starting a project and then ending it 10% in because you think the project has somehow ended…successfully.

Let’s walk along the organizational corridor in the shoes of your people (that’s empathy in layman’s terms).

What usually happens: someone communicates that there is a survey coming on engagement in the organization. Yeah! They probably stress the company values and the like while they do it. Double yeah! Then they or someone else runs the survey. Great so far, they tell themselves, and pat the team on the back for a good job and for coming up with a great set of survey questions. They prepare a report, presentation, whatever fits the organization, and off they head to the boardroom. Discussions occur:

“So why is not as good as last year?”

“Well, we didn’t complete all the actions from last year yet.”

“Did you use the same format at before?”

“Yes, we used the same format so we could compare apples to apples.”

“This question: How happy are you with the senior leadership team? looks good”

“Yes we added that question as you had suggested.”

Did we meet the new KPI target?

“We are two percentage points off.”

“How is Team X doing now? They complained a lot about their manager last time. Is it still the same?”

“Yes, he’s still there but a few of that team has left so the results there are a bit better now since they have some new team members.”

Sound familiar. It does to me.

HR struggled (and they really did try) to get managers/leaders/anyone to come up with action plans that were meaningful and most importantly, followed through with. They begged for buy-in from the business, but any action plans that were sent out fizzled away like the morning dew on a hot day.

And do you know what the main issue was: many felt that this was all HR’s job and so ultimately it was THEIR fault.

Not true.

HR led the efforts, but that’s like saying that it is the job of only HR to set the tone of the organization when really it’s top management who should do that. HR simply guides the process, and so, when HR cannot get a seat at the top table therein lies the problem.

Back to the conversation in the boardroom: that same manager who remained in their team for the longest time doing more damage than imaginable, was allowed to get away with whatever they wanted simply because they got financial results, and they had lost part of their team (so they got sympathy). Note: If I had a face palm emoji, here is where I would place it.

Nothing to do with the fact that the reason that they had literally a revolving door in their department was down to disengaged team members who weren’t allowed to speak up for what they wanted, or put forward their ideas; they were shouted down when they said the wrong thing and even threatened with losing their job. Why would they stay?

So, from my perspective, being asked to run engagement surveys, pulse surveys, whatever surveys internally seemed like a complete waste of time because all the organization was doing was collecting and discussing data. There were few meaningful actions, and some might argue that the cafeteria was overhauled – very nicely, I might add. But, if you are not treated like a human being, like you are worth something; if poor management skills are not fixed, then all the nice food in the world and colorful walls are not going to make up for it.

Imagine a child that gets criticized every time they try something new, try to improve themselves in some way or suggest something; and each time they do, they get shouted at/knocked  back, but given a lollipop also at the end of the day. Does the lollipop make them happy and dispel the angry parent, guardian or teacher that is knocking their confidence OR does it simply add a whole new set of problems to the equation of raising a child? I fear the latter is true.

Adult humans are pretty much like those small humans – you get back what you put in.

That’s why measuring is never enough. For example, if you measured your child every day and saw that they were very small for their age, or if you saw that they were not developing their speech or seemed disengaged at school, you’d take action as a caregiver, would you not? Perhaps you would review their diet, speak to their teacher or take a short trip to the doctor for advice. What I am saying is, you’d check the data, analyze it and TAKE ACTION to fix the problem. You would not sit around discussing the data and how well the report looks because that’s just gloss.

Disengagement does not get fixed by running a survey on engagement. Measuring everything with no action plan means literally NOTHING.

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