Employee Engagement is Not Enough - Page 2

Oct 23, 2009

Theresa Welbourne

In balanced corporate cultures (high sense of urgency and val-o-r), employees were in ideal energy states. Think of a sports analogy first: when you exercise, you take your pulse to make sure you are "in the zone". You want to exert yourself enough so that you are optimally burning calories but not causing your body damage (working too hard so that you have a heart attack). Every person has his or her own target heart rate, which is a function of age, physical condition, and more. The goal of your exercise program is to get to the target heart rate and minimize variation, or stay in the zone to do your best.

The same rule applies to employee energy at work. In fact, in much of the motivation literature, you will see that motivation (which is related to energy) is an optimization construct. There can be too much energy exerted at a given effort. Too much energy exerted in exercise can cause a heart attack. Too much energy going into a light bulb makes it burn out fast. And too much energy being exerted day after day at work can lead to low performance, burnout, health problems, and more.

Since urgency fluctuates considerably, and energy is a proxy for urgency, our first experiments involved measuring energy, or taking an employee's pulse, on a weekly basis. What we learned in doing that work was the following:

1. Energy predicts performance. Starting with studies with students, energy predicted their test scores at the end of the semester. In the corporate world, energy predicted customer satisfaction scores, employee turnover, employee absenteeism, 360-degree performance scores, patient satisfaction scores in hospitals, quality and productivity output, and more.

The process of measuring energy and asking employees open ended comments about what was getting in their way and what was affecting their energy led to: a) positive changes led by managers receiving actionable data in close to real-time reports, and b) an intervention that made employees feel more valued, rewarded and gave them a better sense of ownership. This is because by listening to employees and giving them a new and additional form of voice managers created an intervention that employees valued.

2. Managers were held accountable for employee data in the same way they were being held accountable for sales, financial, and production data. In regular meetings, employee pulse data was simply added to the list of data to discuss. Companies were not creating big employee survey programs; the employee data was simply one more ongoing input into the way the business was managed.

3. Organizations using this approach had measurable and positive results. Turnover was reduced; revenue increased, and when calculated, the results were anywhere between 100% to 2,000% returns on investment in three-month to one-year time periods.

Data and Dialogue Driven Leadership

We also learned a critical lesson in our over 20 years of research: the data and dialogue process that grew from the valour measurement work gave employees voice in a way that was welcome and that led to immediate changes in the organization. The use of data and dialogue affected the sense of urgency and value and led to improved performance.

The key to performance was not the magic questions we developed, even though we have science and validation studies to support their use. The real magic is the dialogue. When managers used the data to have conversations with employees, the interventions that grew out of the dialogue were ones that led to short-term tactical performance wins and to long-term strategic growth.

Theresa Welbourne is the founder, president and CEO of eePulse, Inc. and an adjunct professor of Executive Education at the University of Michigan business school. As CEO of eePulse she leads an organization that delivers web-based leadership tools and research for continuous improvement and change management. Using eePulse's proprietary Web-based, enterprise-wide software suite called Measurecom (measurement and communication), organizations and leaders immediately improve their performance.

If you wish to participate her ongoing leadership study, which is available to you at no cost, please email and ask for more information about the project or how to sign up yourself or your team. To read findings from all the studies done to date, go to

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