Better ways to measure employees than engagement

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As companies scramble to retain top talent and increase productivity in 2022, many will be looking to double employee engagement.

They may be wasting their money.

Despite billions of dollars spent trying to increase employee engagement, recent Gallup research shows that engagement has grown, on average, by less than 0.5% per year for nearly two decades. Additionally, we found that between 2020 and 2021, employee engagement actually dropped by 18%. Shouldn’t organizations have more to show for their efforts?

Recent research from the OC Tanner Institute indicates that engagement can be a misleading and misleading indicator of effectiveness because it is not a measure of the quality and impact of the work product itself. same. And with remote and hybrid working altering the employer-employee equation and mass resignations shifting the balance of power, it’s clear that even the best traditional measures of workplace activity may no longer be relevant. That’s why we think businesses would do well to focus on a different metric in 2022 and beyond. Let’s measure “good work” instead.

To understand the distinction, consider the case of “Pete”.

Pete is first in his office every morning. He maintains his relationships with his colleagues and is obviously stimulated by work. But tasked with managing a large project that touches on areas beyond his expertise, Pete stumbles. Uncomfortable venturing beyond his inner circle, Pete relies too heavily on his closest colleagues, whose skills, perspectives, and blind spots largely overlap with his own. Because he’s not used to expanding his circle of advisors, Pete’s uncommon commitment can only carry him and his business so far.

Definition of “great work”

If “good work” gets the job done, “great work” is exceptional, innovative and revolutionary. “Great job” sounds different in different industries, companies, and functions. It should be defined to align with overall business goals.

While it can be difficult to gauge whether great work is being done (outside of key moments), we’ve identified five behaviors that clearly signal that it’s being done. By looking for these behaviors, leaders can gauge whether great work is happening in their organizations. More importantly, leaders can significantly increase their excellent work quotient by helping employees develop behaviors that may not come naturally to them.

Here are five key behaviors exhibited by employees who produce great work:

  • They ask the right questions, like “How could this task/process/problem be made easier/faster/safer/better?”
  • They’re going to see, which can mean standing on an assembly line or watching users interact with a product.
  • They speak to an outer circle, gathering information and ideas from a wide range of experts.
  • They improve the mix, continually refining and improving their work.
  • They make the difference, by staying focused on the positive results.

Five employee archetypes

To better understand what it takes to inspire and train people to produce great work, we’ve categorized employees into five broad archetypes: Socializers, Builders, Achievers, Taskers, and Coasters. Each group has unique needs, strengths and weaknesses. Everyone has a different probability of demonstrating commitment and producing great work. Equally crucial, each has distinct requirements to increase their excellent work quotient.

Socializers are outgoing, driven, and driven by fun and rewards. They are only 12% likely to produce great work, but 55% likely to be engaged.

Builders are warm, friendly, emotionally intelligent and diplomatic. They are 45% likely to produce great work and 85% likely to be engaged, and they tend to be driven by goals, fun, and rewards.

Winners are driven and energetic, but can be tense and moody. Of all the groups, they are the most likely to do a great job (66%) and show commitment (96%). They are motivated by pleasure, rewards and avoid punishment.

Taskers are generally quieter, calmer and more resistant to feedback. They respond well to rewards, but not to pleasure or punishment. They have a 10% chance of producing great work and a 46% chance of engagement.

Coasters tend to be pessimistic and prone to stress. They value rewards, seek to avoid punishment, and have only a 3% chance of producing great work (and only a 17% chance of demonstrating commitment).

The idea behind these categories is not for leaders to categorize their employees, but to better understand their strengths and weaknesses, so they can provide the right support. The most effective modern leaders observe their employees closely, adjusting their management approach to help each individual grow and thrive. Leaders who know their employees well will recognize which worker personas apply to which team members.

Create bespoke strategies

Leaders can create tailored strategies that encourage great, crucial work behaviors.

Achievers, for example, work hard. But sometimes they prefer to tackle the next challenge rather than continue their involvement in a “finished” project that could benefit from further refinement. By helping High Performers “improve the mix” and “make the difference,” our research shows that leaders can double or even triple the likelihood that these employees will produce great work. One company helped its Achievers “make a difference” by introducing formal reviews three months and nine months after each project. These have become institutionalized opportunities to refine completed projects, ensuring that they accomplish what was intended.

It’s not natural for Taskers to “ask the right question” or “go see”. Here, it can be inspiring to hear stories of colleagues whose orientation changed after receiving unexpected answers or making startling observations. An example: Rob, a claims manager for an insurance company, sought the perspective of a candidate he was interviewing for a position in a call center. When asked to describe best practices she had learned in her previous job, the candidate described how her calls seemed to go more smoothly when she assured customers that she was there for them and that she could help them. This idea led Rob’s company to change the way it answered calls from customers reporting accidents, significantly increasing customer satisfaction.

Coasters score low on all key behaviors. But our research shows that by strengthening workplace culture, including adding greater employee recognition, the likelihood of a great job from a Coaster can be increased sixfold or more.

Socializers are nearly three times more likely to produce great work when they are part of an inclusive company culture, where all employees feel valued and belong. My own department, for example, includes a number of very successful socializers. The warm and welcoming culture that brings out the best in them also resonates with the rest of our team, and during the early stages of the pandemic, it became clear that we needed to reinforce this culture in a remote work setup. We took the time to have lunch together virtually, dropped little tokens of appreciation on each other’s doors, and developed innovative ways to celebrate our successes.

Builders like the big picture, but they’re not as likely to talk to an outside circle. Pete, from the example above, is a Builder: a natural builder of relationships and connections whose colleagues usually follow his thinking quickly. This is often an asset. But in the context of a challenge demanding outside perspectives, this was a significant shortcoming.

By understanding Pete’s personality, his manager could have partnered with him to anticipate the problem before it became a fatal flaw. Perhaps the manager could have started the project by inviting outside experts to participate in an extensive creative brainstorming session.

A better metric

Employee engagement is not a meaningless measure. But like the standard HR indicator it replaced, employee satisfaction, it falls short. If we want to significantly increase business results in 2022, we would do well to focus on measuring, encouraging, inspiring and increasing quality work.


Gary Beckstrand is vice president at OC Tanner, a corporate culture company. He is also co-author of Appreciate: Celebrate people, inspire greatness.

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