Engagement may be starting to lose ground as a buzzword in the human capital management conversation, but whatever we decide to call it, it will still impact business performance. Articles recently published in Forbes (Forbes, May 11, 2015) and (Forbes, April 4, 2015) are just a couple of examples of where that conversation is heading. The crux of the issue is this:


  • 71% of all companies monitor employee engagement.
  • Organizations invest about $720 million annually in engagement improvement.
  • Despite all that effort and investment, engagement stubbornly stays at around 30%.

Measurement problems abound, and engagement is inconsistently defined. Leaders might be getting frustrated with our programmatic efforts at driving engagement. But we know it still matters. And if we’re asking the right questions, we have a better chance of moving the needle on a variable that creates the cultures and employment brands we envision, enhances client service and ultimately improves the bottom line.

What is engagement and why does it matter?

Everyone can pretty much agree that we want people working in our organizations who are happy, motivated and willing to take some ownership for outcomes in their work. For now, and for lack of a new agreed-upon buzzword, let’s agree to call that engagement.

Engagement matters because when people are more engaged, they are more likely to do their very best work. Let’s say your workers are only giving 75% of their best work every day. You still pay 100% of their salaries. That computes to a 25% loss of potential for your organization. You do the math. How much does that cost in terms of client service and in terms of real dollars?

Engagement also matters because less engaged workers are more likely to leave your organization. I’ve done the math for you on that, and turnover costs more than you think. Don’t just trust me – go see for yourself what unwanted turnover does to your bottom line.

Finally, engagement matters for your culture and employment brand because engaged workers are more likely to create a positive working environment for everyone…and to recruit more people like themselves to join your organization.

How should we measure engagement?

That’s the $720,000,000 question. Literally. Every year.

Most organizations are doing it in a systematic way with an annual survey. But if that’s all you do, it’s like going to the doctor for your annual checkup, finding out you have high blood pressure, doing nothing for a year, then going back a year later to discover nothing has changed…or (more likely) things have gotten worse.

Leaders need to be doing more than measuring engagement. We need to be actively cultivating it. Are you asking questions like this?

  • After we review our engagement survey results, what do we do next?
  • How are we using engagement results as a diagnostic tool to guide our investments in people and in teams?
  • How are we equipping managers to maximize engagement?
  • What are we doing to get our entire work force actively involved in moving the needle on engagement?

That begs the next question:

Who should be responsible for engagement?

I’m a big proponent of personal responsibility, and I believe that individuals bear primary responsibility for ensuring that they are optimally engaged, satisfied, motivated, happy and contributing in their work.

At the same time, managers consistently rise to the top as key players in driving engagement (Gallup, Business Journal, April 21, 2015):

  • Managers account for 70% or more of the variance in employee engagement scores across business units.
  • Only 18% of those currently in managerial roles demonstrate high talent for managing others.

This creates an imperative for senior leaders. If you’re agreeing that engagement matters (71% of companies are) and investing in measuring it annually, you must look at the quality of your organization’s managers – and potentially raise the bar – if you expect to move the needle on engagement over time.

Are you asking questions like this?

  • Where are the pockets of excellence in our engagement data?
  • Where are the pockets of clear inferiority?
  • How are those excellent vs. inferior business units different?
  • How are the managers of those business units different?

I want to be very clear that I would never advocate an environment in which managers become the scapegoats for undesirable engagement survey results. But leaders must take responsibility for selecting and developing managers who will translate vision, mission and values into active participation by real people, who get excited and energized to deliver results. Leaders who want to maximize engagement and organizational performance must make it a priority to maximize the quality of their managers and the value their managers create.


Whatever we decide to call it and however we decide to measure it, engagement matters.

  • Engagement enhances organizational culture.
  • Engagement directly impacts the employment brand.
  • Engagement drives quality and client service.
  • Engagement ultimately goes directly to the bottom line.
  • We have to go beyond measuring engagement to actively cultivate it.
  • Leaders must raise the bar on manager quality to drive optimal engagement.

Are you asking the right questions to help your organization move the needle on engagement?

Kim Turnage, Ph.D. works as a Senior Leadership Consultant for Talent Plus, helping leaders select the best people to join their teams, make the most effective investments in talent development and create talent-based succession plans that will ensure the future of their organizations.

To read more of my blogs visit www.talentplus.com.

Talking Talent,

Kim Turnage
Senior Leadership Consultant
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