Don’t Let the Tail Wag the Dog And Other Engagement Measurement Lessons

By Mary Ann Masarech , Lead Consultant, Employee Engagement

Who doesn’t love trends? Digitization of the workplace, the Internet of Things, consumerization of the employee experience, and big data are just a few phrases peppering our discussions these days. As we sort through which developments are going to fuel organizational performance and which will fall short of their promises, we want to share a few observations for updating your engagement strategy to remain a competitive differentiator, not a mere distraction.


Make no mistake: We’re “all in” when it comes to advances in measurement methodology and reporting. The key, as with any evolving discipline, is not forgetting why we measure in the first place – or what to do with what we get. 


Here are six fundamentals for making the most of the latest engagement measurement tools and trends.


  1. Don’t let the tail wag the dog. Said another way, don’t survey just because you can, without clarifying your overall measurement strategy. Your measurement strategy needs to provide useable insights for your engagement, culture, or performance strategy. Technology won’t change this basic truth. As it has become easier to gather information from employees, it’s important to remember the context: What are your organization’s mission-critical imperatives? How are you trying to shape or sustain your culture? How does engagement fit with your other employee experience initiatives? How can a more-engaged workforce deliver the results you need?
  2. “Shorter, faster, easier, more often” is the way to go. We have always encouraged organizations to step away from the 100-item survey that takes months to process and leads to analysis paralysis. Technology now makes it easier to conduct targeted pulse surveys more frequently and present the findings more quickly to leaders and managers online. Not only does faster, easier access to findings allow leaders to explore their findings and accelerate action, dynamic dashboards satisfy the new standards in today’s workplace. As we access information and manage our lives outside of work on our smartphones, we expect that our tasks at work can be accomplished with the same ease.
  3. Listening isn’t enough; you need a two-way dialogue – and doing. Employee feedback needs to inform conversations about improving engagement and performance. Those conversations must include all members of your workforce. If you start gathering information through a continuous listening strategy, make sure you have a way to close the feedback loop and involve employees. Our research suggests that asking for input without taking action can lead to lower response rates (people are not “survey weary”; they are “weary of nothing happening”) and disengagement.
  4. Find the cadence that works for you. If you want to move from an annual survey to more frequent pulsing of the workforce, consider the following: What kind of change management is required to manage expectations and reset expectations of leaders and employees? What’s your organization’s track record for action so far? Will people have enough time to take action before you measure again? How will more frequent measurement overlap with your business or talent management cycles? There is no one-size-fits-all. When in doubt, start slowly and/or pilot in a few units or locations so you can apply lessons learned to the larger organization.
  5. Provide findings down to the lowest level possible – managers and their teams. Although organization-wide initiatives have their place in your engagement strategy, engagement equations play out In our experience, change happens most quickly when managers and their teams take ownership of findings and determine what they can do within their control or influence. This means that continuous listening or pulsing strategies need to provide managers with relevant insights about their teams. Forget about random sampling. If you want every member of the workforce to own their part of your engagement or culture strategy (and yes, you do want that), you need to be able to give them their data – not a high-level sentiment sampling.
  6. Understand the current limitations of people analytics. There are ample opportunities to kick up your analysis by exploring how retention and performance metrics relate to engagement. But remember that your employees are not customers. Your relationship with employees is different. Employees expect a response when they share their views. You’re asking how people feel, not tracking their online purchase behavior. And we’re just beginning to figure all this out. Marc Effron of the New Talent Management Network recently published a report on the state of HR analytics, confirming many of the challenges we’ve seen – including the prevalence of “dirty” (incorrect) data and systems that can’t talk to each other.


So what’s next? Revisit your measurement strategy to make the most of pulse surveys, dynamic reporting, and other technology-enabled engagement measurement tools.  Just keep your eye on the reasons your organization cares about engagement in the first place, as well as what’s going to work best in your culture.