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Engagement is fluid - so why not measure it in real time?

June 26, 2010

Paul (not his real name), is a senior line manager for a Global engineering company. He had a simple question: "Why doesn't our annual engagement survey help us to understand how our people are feeling out there?"

"The Survey Reports always tells us the same story ... the Company is a great place to work and most people are committed to it and what we're trying to do. As a business leaders we then sit back and relax"

"So why do I keep meeting employees in different parts of World who are stressed, unhappy and finding it difficult to cope? What's going on?"

"Our engagement scores don't reflect the reality I often experience when I sit down and talk to my people on my travels."

Paul and I agreed that there are at least three reasons why these problems. The first is the definition of engagement on which most surveys are based.

Often surveys are based on a definition of engagement is both simplistic and unrealistic. Which in turn leads to the collection of relatively useless data. How often are we told that engagement is all about "willingness to go the extra mile" "passion" or "commitment to the business"? These are fine as descriptions of desired outcomes, but what is it that leads to those mental states?

The second reason relates to the way survey questions are framed and responses given and reported. Asking whether individuals are generally supportive of change, or aware of long-term strategies may well receive positive answers - but that tells us very little of how they actually behave day-to-day

The third is that 'traditional' surveys seldom investigate the emotional state of respondents which is arguably the most critical element of engagement. And even if they do, they can do little to take account of the fluid nature of emotions. This despite that much of the current research in the field suggests that rear-view methodologies are ill suited to measuring employees emotions

So it's becoming clear that (a) we need to look more at emotional engagement and (b) that standard approaches aren't up to the job. What can be done to meet this requirement?

That old favourite, the diary, provides one option, but in practice this isn't a starter if the objective is to get large numbers of employees to participate, let alone the problem of analysis and presentation of results.

There has to be a way of measuring engagement in real time - and we think we have developed a tool which does just that. EngageMe is a downloadable app on smartphones or PCs. Employees are invited twice every working day for a given period (usually a couple of weeks) to answer three questions about their current feelings. They're also asked what task they've just been working on. Data on individuals' or teams' engagement then become available both to respondents and their managers and it's clear what tasks are most and least engaging.

In trials with Paul's remote workforce of sales people spread across Europe EngageMe has made it possible for him not only to monitor and measure engagement in real-time, but to take action to optimise tasks and increase commitment levels. It has dramatically changed his day-to-day management experience.

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