Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Employee Engagement: The Great HR Credibility Killer

Today's post is brought to you by my friends and colleagues, Dr. Scott Mondore and Dr. Shane Douthitt.  If you haven't' read their books listed them.  If you haven't heard them that.  

Guest Bloggers: Scott Mondore, PhD ( and Shane Douthitt, PhD ( They are the authors of two best-sellers on talent management and HR Analytics (Investing in What Matters: Linking Employees to Business Outcomes and Business-Focused HR: 11 Processes to Drive Results) and the managing partners of Strategic Management Decisions ( only talent management platform with integrated business outcome analytics.

OK, let’s get this straight: Gallup sends out a new report to tell us that Disengaged employees are at an all-time high. I’m sure there’s good reason for that with the economy being where it is. But this chart is absolutely absurd.

In 13 years, the needle hasn’t moved on engagement! What about all the money that organizations have spent on the Q12 and countless other surveys that claim to measure and drive ‘engagement’? What about all the consulting and so-called ‘best practices’ that are supposed to drive ‘engagement’? The HR profession has attached itself to another fad (see “empowerment”, “satisfaction” etc) that is touted as a savior and turns out to be a credibility killer. At some point, HR needs to step up and be actual business partners that only talk about, and drive, actual business results. The term ‘engagement’ was coined 20 years ago—and we still don’t have an agreed upon definition. We still don’t have any evidence that it consistently drives business outcomes.

Studies that say things like “organizations that score in the top 20% of engagement have a 40% higher stock return” are not real studies. This is not real research, and this is the laziest approach to data analysis available. It’s like saying that women named Cathy make 40% more money than other women. Should you just change your name to Cathy and watch your 40% raise come through?
There’s also no target number that organizations should strive for. At what point do you reach the perfect balance of engagement that maximizes results? Is it 4.5 out of 5? 4.6? NO ONE KNOWS. If your answer to leaders is “we just need more of it”, that’s a credibility killer.

Since we don’t know much about engagement (the value, the definition, the target), is it any wonder that front-line managers see little value in it and regard it as a BARRIER to their actual work? In our first book, we asked a simple question: “How much damage has been done by the book ‘First, Break All the Rules’”? Based on how much money organizations spend on poorly designed surveys and expensive, non-impactful consulting, the damage is quickly rising. ‘I have a best friend at work’ is a credibility killer.

We now have everyone saying that social media in the workplace will ‘drive engagement’, that frequent crowd-sourced performance reviews will drive engagement (even though we can’t get leaders to do one performance review, one time a year!). We have big consulting firms now talking about transformational engagement and sustainable engagement. When did we ever figure out regular, ol’ engagement? Re-branding a topic and calling it the next big thing is a credibility killer.

There is a better way. You can conduct an employee survey and connect the results to business outcomes. You can show leaders the exact areas of their management style and work environment that they can work on to maximize real business results (profits, sales, productivity, safety etc). You can get front-line manager buy-in by giving them the training/tools to work on business drivers. You can create metrics around business drivers instead of chasing a nebulous engagement score. You can rate your performance as an HR department based on the organization’s business outcomes and not around a vanity engagement benchmark/percentile score.

It’s only a matter of time before the next silver bullet phrase is coined, the next fad is born and the next HR credibility-killer creeps into our work. Let’s focus on driving business results and get our credibility back.

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