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3 Key Metrics That Employee Engagement Surveys Miss

It’s time to say goodbye to traditional engagement surveys. It’s not that they don’t offer some valuable insights. They do. The problem is that despite their ubiquity, they’re not moving the employee engagement needle much.

Gallup has studied employee engagement for over a decade. Currently, just 23% of the global workforce and 32% of the U.S. workforce report being actively engaged. Perhaps more distressing is that actively disengaged employees are trending upward, narrowing the gap between those eager to come to work and those who would rather have a root canal.

This isn’t to completely discount engagement surveys. More frequently than not, the surveys are disseminated with the best of intentions. They simply have some inherent flaws, making them both superfluous and costly at up to $25,000 a pop.

Perhaps the biggest problem is the underlying goal of each survey. The earliest employee engagement surveys measured morale. Today, you can find ones that measure everything from an individual’s commitment to work to their well-being. This templated format often doesn’t align with information that could help organizations improve engagement and culture. Even if it does, some of the measurements may lack context or detail. It’s good to know if your retention rate is subpar (and you’ll want to stay on top of churn), but it would be better if you could stop the retention rate from plummeting in the first place by knowing why people are leaving.

Another challenge of traditional engagement surveys revolves around employee skepticism. Many have been through this song and dance before. They’ve given feedback and nothing ever seems to change. Their leaders receive the survey results and are tasked with improving the low scores, but they don’t always know what to do or where to start.

Break the Mold, Not the Bank

You absolutely can create a more inclusive, diverse workplace culture with a strong intersection between belonging, purpose, and passion. The secret to making it work is to move beyond all those conventional employee surveys and their equally conventional KPIs to gather and use nontraditional KPIs.

Today more than ever, people want to feel valued, treated with respect, and given the opportunity to contribute to something important. Nontraditional KPIs are geared to focus more on how people connect and contribute to their work environments and collaborate with team members. They foster discussion and appreciation for differing points of view and ideas — not to mention higher degrees of creativity and innovation.

These surveys can be outsourced, but I advocate for internal development to gain greater customization and relevance to the specific organizational context, which could lead to more effective engagement strategies. While there might be initial costs in terms of time and resources to establish these new KPIs and the systems for measuring them, these expenses are likely lower than repeatedly outsourcing traditional surveys. Here are the nontraditional KPIs you should incorporate into your surveys to understand your people and improve engagement.

1. Team Success

Measuring team success allows you as a leader to see into the culture of each team and how those teams’ players relate. Begin by asking every team to define what success looks like to them. Resist the temptation to put your own spin on success, though. Let teams figure out success for themselves.

Of course, you can prompt the discussion with a few open-ended questions. You might ask, “What were your team’s ‘wins’ during the last week?” Don’t be surprised if each employee defines “wins” a little differently. Gartner recently noted that 82% of workers want to be seen as individuals. Accordingly, for them, a “win” could revolve around bringing their authentic selves to an initiative or campaign.

Another good way to prompt deeper thinking is to ask teams to describe the organizational work culture as if they were speaking to family and friends. The words that they use can be indicative of how they feel about both the broader company as well as their core team. Over time, you’ll see that “team success” as a KPI will differ between groups. However, once you’ve formed each team’s baseline, you can begin to help your teams adjust their expectations so they can achieve more wins.

2. Innovation and New Ideas

Modern business is highly competitive. This means that even the seemingly tiniest of ideas could become the seeds for the next revolutionary breakthrough. I strongly suggest that you start measuring the new ideas bubbling up across your organization. New ideas can stimulate and encourage employees, which is exactly what engagement is all about.

Remember: Not everyone knows a great concept when they see it. You may ask, “What did you learn from the last project or experience?” Encouraging employees to reflect on what they’ve done recently reinforces learning. They’re able to celebrate what went well and consider ways to get even better results the next time around. Be sure to follow up with, “What’s an out-of-the-box idea for your next challenge, project, or opportunity?” to raise the bar a few notches and urge workers — and their managers — to pursue novel solutions.

I love measuring new ideas because it’s a practice that can be quickly folded into your regular meetings. We recently added a “what I learned last week” segment to our weekly team gatherings. It reinforces the importance of continued learning and allows us to share with and learn from each other. It gives great insight and the opportunity to uncover employees’ untapped or unrealized skills during this part of the meeting. What better springboard could there be to pinpoint a potential future (engaged) leader? Almost two-thirds of people who resigned in 2021 said it was because they lacked advancement opportunities. Gathering new ideas can stop attrition by highlighting star players and showing you value them.

3. Trends

Another nontraditional workplace culture KPI to keep track of is trends. This could be trends in metrics, trends in business, customer trends — whatever makes the most sense for your team.

Let’s say you’re in marketing, and you routinely scour through customer data reports. Ask your colleagues, “What do these reports tell us? What don’t they tell us? How and why are these results different from what we’ve seen recently, and what should we do next?” This forces everyone to begin thinking about potential gaps in their customer trend knowledge. It also encourages the sharing of subtleties and nuances that one employee may see, even if other employees don’t. Best of all, it improves data literacy and confidence across your workforce.

Getting on board with trends puts everyone on the same page and empowers team members to look closely at facts and figures. It gives everyone ownership and authority to dig a little deeper and use their abilities, which can improve engagement. You may find that some people are naturals at spotting trends or seeing what’s missing in the data. If you weren’t measuring trends as a KPI, you might never know those people are capable of some serious trend-spotting wizardry.

Old habits truly do die hard. Nevertheless, many habits need to be shelved, including the belief that engagement surveys are the answer to revving up employee engagement. They’ve had their time to shine, and they just aren’t working. It’s best to reinvent them so more nontraditional KPIs and methods of motivating employees can have their chance to shine.

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