Performance: The Ultimate Measure of Engagement

Every year Gallup releases their “State of the American Workforce Report,” and every year it shows approximately the same thing: about a 1/3 of the workforce is committed to and enthusiastic about their job, about half are doing what it takes to get by, and the rest are actually hurting the organization by being there. Firms spend a lot of money on these surveys. On the low end, hiring a firm to survey your employees will cost thousands of dollars. On the high end, a large-size company might invest hundreds of thousands of dollars to ongoingly measure engagement and the effects of engagement efforts.

Here’s what the firms that are doing those surveys don’t want you to know: if you’re doing a good job of capturing your business results, that should tell you everything you need to know. What I mean by this is that, if you’ve done a good job of connecting your individual’s key performance indicators (KPI’s) to business results and are tracking them routinely, you’ll know who is engaged.

For example, right now I am looking at some baseline data from 19 of a client’s front line staff. They’ve done well with measurement. They have solid metrics that they’re confident are highly accurate and reflective of individual performance. Additionally, they’ve set goals that, while attainable, take some amount of intentionality and focus to meet. Looking at this data, something interesting emerges. 36% (7/19) are exceeding goal by more than 15%. 47% (9/19) are within 15% of goal, either above or below. The other 16% aren’t even meeting half of goal. Now, reread that first paragraph and tell me what you see. Those numbers track about as close to Gallup’s results as they can for such a small sample.

Now, here’s the mistake that we too often make when thinking about employee engagement: we think engagement lies over there with them. It doesn’t – at least not completely. Engagement is actually an interaction between the individual, the task at hand, and the environment where the task happens. What makes an employee who seems naturally engaged seem that way is that they’ve lucked into an environment where seeing the results of the completed activity is something that engages them. Whatever numbers completing that activity moves, they like completing that activity – and the numbers move with it.

So what do you do with the other 50% who don’t find satisfaction is simply completing the work? Easy. Find out what they do find interesting and connect that to them engaging with the activity. This could be developing an incentive pay system or some other rewards program. It could be building in some sort of recognition. It could be building in reminders of the difference the work they do makes for your customers. It’s probably one of those things. If you do that and manage it well over time, you’ll see those 50% hovering around the goal line start to look like top performers.

Which leaves the remaining 15% at the bottom. What do you do with them. This might sound cold, but let them go. I guarantee you that if they’re performing that poorly, they aren’t happy and they’re affecting the people around them. Give them the opportunity to find work where they won’t be so miserable, and give the people with potential a break from them. What you’ll find is that each one can be replaced by moving one mid-level performer into the high performing range. Use some of those salary savings to invest in appreciating your employees who are performing. What you’ll have will be higher productivity, with higher margins, and higher morale.