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Evolution of Engagement – Part I

Posted by Amy Wilson on November 22, 2007


Science and Measurement

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and talking about employee engagement – the growing recognition of its importance, organizational efforts to harness the competitive differentiator, and the emerging tools and technologies that can be leveraged to accelerate it.


I like this topic because for the first time in a long time I’m able to carry on a conversation about my work with friends and family “not in the industry.” For example, I was recently speaking with a friend of mine who runs her own graphic arts company. She quickly caught on to the topic and its importance despite the fact that she has never worked for anyone nor really had anyone work for her. She was able to think back to her one failed attempt at hiring – a summer intern who was engaged more in surfing and sleeping late than coming to work and serving clients.

It’s a universal topic that just makes sense to people and I’m thrilled that there is now science to back it up. Even better,In addition, leading organizations I speak to are doing something about it.


In my opinion, Deloitte really kicked off this trend toward fact-based engagement research. In their 2004 study, “Do you know where your talent is?” Deloitte brought attention to the fact that organizations were too focused on acquisition and retention and not focused enough on what really matters to employees – developing capabilities and working on meaningful initiatives. Organizations still (and should) care about acquisition and retention, but if they focus on what matters to people, they will attract and keep them. Attraction and retention are byproducts of engagement. Thus, if you measure and react to acquisition and retention metrics, it is too late – these are trailing indicators. Instead, organizations need to measure engagement levels; this will in turn allow them to predict and adjust not only turnover, but also top line performance indicators.

So, how does one measure engagement? There are a number of methodologies available to organizations. The general guideline is to pick a methodology and execute well as Mark mentions in his earlier post. I am impressed with Gallop’s Q12 methodology laid out in the book “12: The Elements of Great Managing.” Gallop conducted more than 10 million workplace interviews, creating a massive database of hard evidence. They have identified 12 precision statements that best connect employee engagement to business success.

The truly distinguishing thing about these measurements is what organizations are doing with them. Many of the leading organizations I speak with have found that it is not enough to conduct engagement surveys, track the results, and compare to industry standards (which most do). Most have found that it is the follow-up action which is most important. In many cases, organizations set up task forces that cross functional boundaries. Others make particular leaders accountable for improving engagement levels. In both execution strategies, the organization is setting measurable goals and people are held accountable.

Organizations are also trending toward making this information public – acknowledging weakness and exhibiting an effort to get better. This is a leadership strategy outlined by Marshall Goldsmith in his book “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.” Though Goldsmith’s strategy is designed for individuals, I see the application to organizations as well. You may have been a good organization in the past, but to be a great organization in the future, you need to ask how you can do better and then show that you are doing better.

10 Responses to “Evolution of Engagement – Part I”

  1. […] TalentedApps We put the Talent in Applications « Evolution of Engagement – Part I […]

  2. […] Employee Engagement a managers job? We’ve been talking about Employee Engagement for some time.  How do we engage people, why do we need to engage people – all that touchy/feely […]

  3. […] for pointing me to this article that suggests that in Asia the team might be the biggest factor in engagement (see, I told you I’d attempt to bring this to a […]

  4. […] based on growing their people you are probably going to have limited success in driving the kind of employee engagement that we have been talking about here at […]

  5. […] last the guilt of posting a part I and no part II has overwhelmed me.  And really, if you don’t count Christmas and New […]

  6. […] by Amy on March 5, 2008 As we learned in 12: The Elements of Great Managing, if you ask the right questions, you can learn an awful lot […]

  7. I have a number of problems with the Gallup G12 measures. I wonder if others share my concerns. Its measures consist solely of 12 attitude statements measured on a five-point agree/disagree ‘Likert Scale’ plus a job satisfaction scale question. My concerns are:
    1. They only measure attitudes, not for example, behaviours, motivations, or knowledge that are equally important for understanding employee engagement.
    2. They only measure attitudes using an agree/disagree scale which for many kinds of attitudes is a very inappropriate way of measuring them.
    3. They claim to have boiled down ‘millions of questions’ to just 12 key ones, but the criteria for inclusion guarantees, in my view, that many potentially highly important measures are excluded.
    4. The empirical justification for using these twelve statements, as outlined in the book ‘First, break all the rules’, is extremely weak and based on levels of correlation with company performance measures that are so low that no serious statistician would accept them as proof of evident correlation
    5. They imply that high scores on their measures will result in outstanding commercial performance yet, even if the correlations were strong, the direction of causality, if it exists, is, in my view, most likely to be the other way round – positive attitudes resulting from good commercial performance and all the rewards that go with it rather than the other way round.

    Am I a lone voice in my scepticism?

  8. Meg Bear said

    @Peter, I do not think you are alone in your [justified] skepticism. I guess I look at it a bit broader. This survey is not going to in itself make you more competitive BUT understanding how people feel about your company as a starting point. I think Mark covered a lot of the next steps of what to do with this information in this post => https://talentedapps.wordpress.com/2008/02/12/yes-we-are-all-individuals/

  9. Thanks Meg

    Actually, I am not starting from a point of being skeptical about measurement. Indeed, I have spent most of my career as a researcher and even wrote a book about using surveys in management some years ago.

    What amazes me is the sheer audacity of the ‘G12’ approach when, it seems to me, there is precious little to support the claims being made for the questions Gallup uses in its surveys.

    Moreover, most of the types of questions that should be asked in order to understand ‘employee engagement’, (or simply how to manage your business more effectively), are just left out!

    Perhaps the worst thing about them is that, whatever the answers, they are virtually inactionable – they might suggest that you have some kind of problem in a general area but do not provide you with anything specific that management can address.


  10. […] What the heck to do with the results? (to get improved business […]

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