It Isn't Just About the Numbers

Posted on 15th August 2017


Welcome to the Business Empathy Forum and thank you for your visit. In this post I direct your attention to a thoughtful article entitled ‘Quit Measuring Employee Engagement’, by Claire Lew. With many enterprises tightly focused on ‘metrics’ and the quantitative measurement of results, Lew makes an interesting case for a more qualitative and empathic approach to engagement.

The Quality of Employee Engagement

One of her first insights is that the attention given to measurement in business may be driven by our desire for control. “Whether it’s net promoter scores for customers, A/B tests for prospects, or KPIs for employee performance, we’re addicted to measuring whatever we can in our businesses. Sometimes it’s helpful, say most notably when measuring revenue and expenses. But other times it’s not. The more I find myself trying to measure everything in our company, the more I find myself asking… Why? We default to measuring things because it gives us some semblance of control. When we can plot a line graph that says where we were yesterday versus today, a small sense of comfort is gained.”

She also highlights the inherent challenge of quantifying variables as subjective and intangible as team spirit, motivation, or job satisfaction. “I don’t believe employee engagement is something that can be measured. How engaged, motivated, and fulfilled a person is cannot be defined by a number. Think about it. What does a 6 really mean on a 10-point scale? Can you really tell how engaged that person is off that one arbitrary indicator?”

So what is the real purpose of trying to measure employee engagement in the workplace? If the goal is to gain insights that will lead to genuine improvements in the workplace, that is a good thing. “But trying to assign a numerical value to the way employees feel is not going to solve the underlying problem of employees not feeling heard, valued or respected. You want insights, not numbers. You want truth, not graphs. If you notice employees suffering from low morale or a lack of motivation in your company, that’s not a problem caused by a lack of metrics or charts. That’s a communication problem. That’s a relationship problem. That’s a people problem.”

The real insights into employee engagement and morale will come from genuine conversations, not from quantification itself. And for these genuine conversations to take place we need to rely on our empathic ‘toolbox’: listening carefully, asking good questions, and being truly present. If we do these things our employees will tell us what we need to know.

“If you want to know if people are unhappy, ask them. If you want to know what they think about the company’s direction, ask them. If you want to know if people are getting along with their managers, ask them. Instead of wasting your time trying to quantify, triangulate, and score your company culture’s health or employee engagement over time, simply talk to your employees.”

Food for thought, and a step toward greater empathy.

Good luck, and until next time…