Making the Most of Engagement Measures: A Management Cheat Sheet

By David Creelman

Engagement measures can be used to judge more than employee engagement. The questions that measure employee engagement are all simple indicators of good people management. Think of it as a king of management cheat sheet.

A New Look at the Engagement Questions
You can use any vendor’s engagement measures as a simple guideline for good people management; there are half a dozen good vendors that come to my mind. I will focus on Gallup’s Q12 because it is the most famous and is easy to find online (just Google “Gallup Q12”).

The Q12 is copyrighted so you cannot run a survey without using Gallup, but there is no reason your managers cannot read the questions and ponder how well they rate on them.  So let’s start by reviewing the first question “Do you know what is expected of you at work?”

This is so basic that it is easy to overlook. Managers may think “Of course, my employees know what is expected of them” and, being terribly busy as all managers are, will be reluctant to spend time testing that belief. Yet, what seems obvious to a manager may not be obvious to their employees. Much of the frustration of both managers and employees comes from mismatched or unclear expectations. Your managers could do worse than to spend a few minutes talking to each of their direct reports about this first Q12 question.

The Importance of Time Frames
Some of the other Q12 questions deal with receiving praise, being given feedback about your progress and having opportunities to learn and grow. All your managers will recognize these as important components of people management.

What makes the Q12 interesting is that the questions relating to these factors contain time frames.  For example, question four is “In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?” This is much more helpful than having managers ask themselves “Do you praise employees?” Managers would be well-advised to honestly assess whether they have praised each of their employees in the past seven days and, if not, recognize it is a simple way to improve performance.

The seven-day time frame is not arbitrary. Gallup tested variations of the questions to see which ones were most closely correlated with high performance. It may be that, in a given setting, seven days may be too long or too short.  That’s for your manager to decide, but it is a good starting point.

The Mystery of Best Friends
The one odd question in the Q12 is number 10 “Do you have a best friend at work?” Your managers may just want to skip over that question in their own self-assessment on the grounds that this is a factor beyond their control. However, more ambitious managers will take the question to heart and look hard at whether having a best friend is purely a matter of personal chemistry, or whether it does reflect something important about the work environment.

In fact, research on friendship shows that it does depend very much on situational factors (such as who is located nearby) not just personality factors. The best managers will ask their employees this question and, if the answer is “No,” then they will try to change the work environment so it is more conducive to friendships.

A Job Aid Instead of an HR Program
There are all kinds of things we do to improve managerial performance, the most important being training and development programs and the performance management process. These things all take time and money.  Letting managers know that the Q12 is a fantastic job aid for people management is cheap and easy.

People management is an important aspect of being a manager (see Henry Mintzberg’s great book Managing for other important aspects.)  Helping your managers become better people managers is one of the most important roles of HR. Take advantage of all the research that has gone into creating engagement measures by putting the questions to use as a simple job aid. Managers should print out the questions and pin it to their bulletin board as a cheat sheet on good people management.

David Creelman is CEO of Creelman Research, providing writing, research and speaking on human-capital management. He works with a variety of academics, think tanks, consultancies and HR vendors in Canada, the U.S., Japan, Europe and China. David can be reached at dcreelman@creelmanresearch.com.

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