While working on KRAs of a company recently, I was quite surprised to see employee engagement scores figuring in the goals of the leadership team. Digging a bit deeper, I quickly understood that the organisation had run an employee engagement survey recently and the scores were nothing to write home about. And it so happened that the organisation didn’t achieve their quarterly targets and it was just a matter of connecting dots. Employees were not engaged and hence organisation did not perform. So, one smart HR guy said, “Lets introduce employee engagement scores in this mid-year appraisal and we have fixed the organisation performance issue once and for all!”

Here’s a bit of theory for you. An ‘engaged employee’ is one who is fully absorbed by and enthusiastic about their work and so takes positive action to further the organization’s reputation and interests. This is the most commonly accepted definition of an engaged employee. But the question is do the employee engagement surveys measure this. And should employee engagement be part of leadership goals?

Can you as my manager influence my enthusiasm and absorption in work and propel me to take positive action for the organisation’s future? If so, how will you do it. Is this even humanly possible?

Employee engagement score is a lead indicator into the success of the team and the organization. But treating the lead indicator as a barometer of success or performance is short of saying – I will look at the clouds and assume that it has rained. Clouds could pass by with a change in wind direction; the amount of rain is dependent on so many factors including cloud density, humidity, how tall the cloud is, distance of the cloud from the sky and so on. For the cloud to rain, it has to become heavy enough to succumb to earth’s gravity. Similarly, employee engagement scores can change based on what has happened in the past few days (recency effect), employee perception which could be far from truth (halo effect), employee motives and most importantly how much ‘trust’ the teams enjoy.

Is leadership about keeping people engaged and happy? Is employee engagement a worthy pursuit for an organisation? I haven’t come across too many people who are happy & enthusiastic working hard and long hours. But sometimes, we need to stretch in order to achieve our goals. And, stretching beyond comfort – as we all know is not a happy place to be unless of course you are an elastic band!

Will I as a manager take tough decisions when I know that my incentives are coming from keeping you happy and engaged. Will I discipline an errant employee, or will I focus on the scores that the employee gives me?

Employee engagement scores can be a double – edged sword. If you are counting – how many of your employees have best friends at work, and if they have been praised enough or if they are getting enough encouragement or if their opinion (whatever it may be) is being taken into account – you are missing the woods for the trees.

Like Steve Jobs said, “If you want to make everyone happy, don’t be a leader, sell ice cream.” For all you know, your employee engagement surveys are luring your leaders into becoming people – pleasers running for the next Mr. Congeniality contest.

At Able Ventures, we innovate, we focus, we challenge. We look at your business needs and align your people practices helping you leverage human potential. In short, we enable you to grow. And yes, we have an alternative to how you can improve employee engagement. Do write in to know more – smita@ableventures.in