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Quit measuring employee engagement

It’s time to break our addiction to metrics — starting with employee engagement metrics.

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

I think this statement is bullshit.

While I have utmost respect for Peter Drucker, whom I believe the quote is attributed to, I take issue with this statement’s over-the-top, rampant usage in the business world.

Whether it’s net promoter scores for customers, A/B tests for prospects, or KPIs for employee performance, we’re addicted to measuring whatever we can in our businesses. Sometimes, it’s helpful (say most notably, when measuring revenue and expenses!). But other times, it’s not.

The more I find myself trying to measure everything in our company, the more I find myself asking… Why?

We default to measuring things because it give us some semblance of control. When we can plot a line graph that says where we were yesterday versus today, a small sense of comfort is gained. That blip in the line is progress, right? Self-worth now validated! We think to ourselves: “Phew, I guess we’re kinda doing okay now.”

Our addiction to measuring things in our business is perhaps most apparent when it comes to employee engagement. I can’t tell you how many times people have asked me if our software, Know Your Team, measures employee engagement. Each time, I tell them resoundingly, “No.”

We do not measure employee engagement, and we never will.

Why? I don’t believe employee engagement is something that can be measured. How engaged, motivated, and fulfilled a person is cannot be defined by a number. Think about it. What does a 6 really mean on a 10 point scale? Can you really tell how engaged that person is off that one arbitrary indicator?

Employee engagement is ultimately qualitative. So instead of trying to turn something that’s qualitative into something that’s quantitative, just stop trying to quantify it at all.

Consider: Why are you trying to measure employee engagement in the first place? Is it because you want to better understand how people are feeling in your company so you can improve your company’s work environment? If so, that’s great! But trying to assign a numerical value to the way employees feel is not going to solve the underlying problem of employees not feeling heard, valued or respected.

You want insights, not numbers. You want truth, not graphs.

If you notice employees suffering from low morale or a lack of motivation in your company, that’s not a problem caused by a lack of metrics or charts.That’s a communication problem. That’s a relationship problem. That’s a people problem.

If you want to know if people are unhappy, ask them. If you want to know what they think about the company’s direction, ask them. If you want to know if people are getting along with their manager, ask them.

Instead of wasting your time trying to quantify, triangulate, and score your company culture’s health or employee engagement over time… simply talk to your employees.

Ask them relevant, insightful questions. Listen carefully. Thank them for their input. Take action on what makes sense. I promise you’ll make more progress improving employee engagement in your company by doing those things than by trying to measure it.

Break free of the addiction to measure employee engagement. Your time will be better spent.

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Written by Claire Lew

CEO of Canopy. My mission in life is to help people become happier at work. Say hi to me on Twitter at @clairejlew.