I know this sounds drastic coming from someone 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, the tool has become the goal in far too many cases when it comes to employee engagement. I recently gave a speech to the top 400 leaders of a health system. I mentioned that it’s time we stop measuring the engagement of our people, and applause broke out. People are clearly frustrated with traditional employee engagement surveys and the initiatives to improve engagement scores. The whole effort seems to be about improving those scores rather than changing the way we unlock the energy and potential of our people.

I witnessed a presentation of low engagement numbers and watched an executive explain the scores and what they were going to do to improve them. I then asked a few people toward the back of the room what they heard. The answer was basically, “I heard a speech telling us we’re better than this, and next year we’ll rate these issues nines and tens so we can get back on the ‘best list.’” The numbers aren’t providing real insight and aren’t helping one of the biggest work problems we face today.

This problem is that 70% of our people don’t bring the best version of themselves to the workplace. The even more startling fact is that this number has not budged in 30 years. Even problems such as traffic accidents have seen significant improvement since then. Let’s stop measuring engagement and start engaging the hearts and minds of our people.

The key is not to get better numbers. It’s to value what our people think and feel about our business – and how to grow it. When our people are engaged, we are more apt to value and seek out their thinking. This gives our people the opportunity to activate our strategy and contribute to us winning in the marketplace. We must build up creators rather than implementors. Once our people are engaged with our most pressing challenges, they will come up with better answers than we could script for them.

It’s time to do the right thing, not to try to manufacture the right measures or put employees to the test. Doing the right thing starts with leaders asking questions and measuring their own actions.

  1. Do you care about your people’s success? What does it feel like when someone cares, and how do you know they care? What difference does caring make? How would your people rate you on your investment in their success? Great engagement starts when a leader fully recognizes that their success is the growth and success of the people they lead. Care about their growth, be curious about areas in which they would like to learn and expand, and celebrate new capabilities in your people.
  2. Are you actively removing constraints? Organizational constraints can inhibit you and your people from performing at the highest level. Prioritizing, integrating, and simplifying what you ask people to focus on can free up capacity and energy. What score would you give yourself for removing constraints? What score would your people give you for removing burdens from their everyday activities?
  3. Have you created the conditions for true collaboration? The magic of great ideas happens in ideation and iteration. Great collaborators 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 their contributions and results to the next level. What score would you give yourself for allowing true collaboration in which people constantly bring out the best in one another?
  4. Are you curious about what your people think and understand – and what they don’t? Your people are the customers of your strategy. Do you ask where they would double down and where they would reallocate resources on key priorities? When would your people say was the last time you truly listened to them on any topic? What score would you give yourself for how well you understand what your people think about your strategy to win?
  5. Do you ask your people to solve the big-picture puzzles? In many cases, we tell people how to do their job and tell them little about the business. The drama, adventure, and opportunities are all puzzles they have the power to solve. When was the last time you talked with your people about the big picture, from the marketplace to their role in the business? When you bring your people into the most strategic challenges, true engagement takes off. It comes from valuing what your people think and seeing your role as a leader in unlocking the sleeping giant of human potential. What strategic puzzles are you asking your people to solve today?

It’s time to stop measuring the engagement of our people and start measuring these five questions of engagement – without surveys!


March 12, 2024

More deeply rooted thinking

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Managing Change
Managing Change


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