How to Measure Employee Engagement

Whether you are building a team from scratch or planning to improve the engagement of the existing team, you need to start measuring and monitoring employee engagement as soon as possible.

This is Part 3 of “How to improve employee engagement”. Here you will learn why measuring employee engagement is important and how to set up a process for your team at no cost to the company. You can go back to Part 1 for key definitions and Part 2 for the first practical steps you should take to improve your team’s engagement.

Here my opponents would eagerly note that Peter Drucker(!) said “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” – and they will be terribly wrong. First, Peter Drucker never said that. Rather it was W. Edwards Deming, a statistician by birth, who said something close – but different:

“It is wrong to suppose that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it – a costly myth.”

Deming’s point was: In management, there are things that you can’t measure using only the available data, but quite often you have to use your judgment and common sense.

Looking at the employee engagement matters from the 21st century, I would add that when you manage people – i.e. “soft stuff“ – using “hard data” may become counterproductive. On the other hand, if you are friends with common sense, you may use creative measurements – and come up with useful benchmarks and guides.

For example, healthcare professionals often use a Pain Scale when talking to patients: “On a scale of 1 to 10, how strong is your pain?” This is a very subjective “self-reported” measurement but it allows to monitor the healing process. Likewise, there is an opposite measurement – the Subjective Happiness Scale (SHS). The latter is less known only because humans are genetically focused on risk avoidance (the “survival instinct”) but not on opportunity enhancement.

The important part is not how precisely you measure – but how you set up the employee engagement initiative and how well you communicate with your people. And right away you may benefit from measuring and monitoring two sets of data:

Your team’s performance potential

The success or failure of your engagement improvement initiative depends on the top management. If you are the top management, you need to start from your team (of VPs or Directors, your direct reports) and run a benchmark assessment. If you are not CEO but want to improve your team’s engagement, the approach is the same, but you may need more cojones to make a change.

Again, there are many tools you can use and you only need one – provided you can use it again in the future.

I like Patrick Lencioni’s team assessment tool from “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.” Lencioni made the list of his questions available in his books, brochures and on his website. You can download the questionnaire and have the entire assessment done “by hand” in minutes. For a “two-pizza” team of 5-10 people, this low-tech approach will take you less time than ordering the assessment online or through a “certified partner.” If you are a large organization, with hundreds of people to assess and a lot of cash to spend, you may as well do that. However, by definition, this team assessment score is of great value to a small, tight-knit team, but its value is questionable if you are measuring average behaviors of a crowd.

In my practice, I have created a simple online tool that allows my clients to run a similar one-minute “self-test” during any meeting, whenever they decide to take another benchmark and check their progress, for free.

Meaningful Meetings Monitor

The quality of company meetings at all levels has a big impact on employee engagement. Meetings for managers are like operations for surgeons: meetings is where management happens. Hence, another parameter that you must start monitoring right away is your meetings’ quality.

The key here is continuous and consistent monitoring. My MMM tool is possibly the most effective tool that I have ever used in practice, and certainly the most efficient one: it’s ROI is close to infinity, guaranteed. In essence, MMM is a ten-point checklist. The hardest part is to have enough discipline to check the ten points right after every meeting, and document the results. Optionally, you can do it in Excel, visualize the progress, note areas for improvement, and email the printout to the team.

You can read everything about the MMM tool, and download the checklist here.

Employee Engagement Survey

Now that we have the management people aligned and monitored, let’s get to the employee engagement measurement. Like with every other parameter on the way to culture change, it is necessary to benchmark your team’s current state, regardless of the engagement level.

Although many companies may recommend “better alternatives,” the Q12 Employee Engagement Survey by Gallup remains the leader here. It is another good example of an effective self-reported measurement tool. It consists of twelve (+ one) questions that your employees answer confidentially, using a 1 to 5 scale. This is very subjective, but this baseline is enough to see progress compared to the results of the same survey 6-12 months later.

It is possible to find a sample Q12 report generated by Gallup and extract the complete questionnaire from there. There are many articles on the web explaining its results; google, and ye shall find. You may then go the low-tech way. Simply, use a paper questionnaire and collect and analyze the data manually as I suggested with “The Five Dysfunctions” assessment above. However, you may need a professional to do that properly, especially if your organization is large. Plus, unlike Patrick Lencioni, Gallup hide the math and transparently allude to their exclusive copyright to the questions.

However, many alternative versions of the questionnaire are offered by other professionals on the Internet, and “proprietary formulas” are not very difficult to develop. They will be different from Gallop’s, but it doesn’t matter as long as you use the same questions for the follow-up assessment.

Still, if you have enough money, Gallup’s fully automated online assessment may be an effective solution. Except for one annoying detail. In a way, Gallup charges a premium for comparing your organization’s data with that of “other players in your niche.” This is an extra cost with no added value: Why would you pay to know the average body temperature of other, unknown patients in the same hospital? You only need to know your temperature today and your temperature tomorrow.

For that reason, you might opt for an “unbranded” but free test that, if you have some aptitude, you can conduct yourself. When the time comes to assess the results of your employee engagement improvement effort, you will simply run it again and compare the results.

Full disclosure: Yes, this is what I recommend and what I would do.

If all the tools described in this Part 3 sound intimidating, but you realize that something must be done to boost your company’s productivity and culture, take a good look at what your employees have posted on Glassdoor. In case your company employs more than twenty people and is older than a few months, you absolutely must find some reviews and ratings on Glassdoor, and if there are none – that’s not a good sign…

Regardless, ask your people to leave their comments on Glassdoor. In case they have privacy concerns, tell them that Glassdoor staff will never disclose the identity of raters to anybody. And if and when they change their opinion of the company, they can go back and edit their rating – thus providing “real-time” inputs to the management.

Note that Glassdoor ratings reflect primarily employee job satisfaction, not their engagement (which can be assessed indirectly). Although strongly correlated, motivation and engagement are not the same thing, and it is important to understand the difference and act on it.

This confusion of employee engagement with motivation and job satisfaction is another reason why employee engagement remains low after all these years.

In Part 4: The Performance Triangle: Three Factors that Boost Team Potential, you’ll learn the differences and similarities between engagement, motivation, and satisfaction, which will help you improve all three for your team.