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Why Smart Businesses are Focussing on Performance Before Engagement

Leadership 24 Feb . min read

The engagement model has been flipped on its head.

The traditional way of thinking about engagement is linear - employee engagement leads to improved business performance. But recent research is pointing to a much more circular model. It goes something like this:

Performance drives engagement, which in turn impacts performance.

Consider the three factors widely understood to be the biggest drivers of engagement:

1. Work: Having the resources and skills to deliver challenging and meaningful work.

2. Autonomy: Freedom to make decisions; having a stake in business outcomes.

3. Manager: A manager who listens, encourages open communication, and respects individuals.

Do these factors directly impact employee engagement? Or is it more likely that they improve performance, which in turn drives engagement? We're unlikely to feel engaged if we're not doing a good job, or if the company we work for is failing. We all enjoy being part of a winning team - even better if we also feel that we’re contributing to that team’s success.

So does engagement even matter anymore?

There’s no doubt engagement influences business outcomes. Its impact on staff retention alone is a very good reason to continue to invest in employee engagement initiatives. But it’s just one of the many levers available to us to lift performance. Broadening our focus to encompass all of the factors that influence business success makes obvious sense. What’s more, improving performance has the happy side effect of - you guessed it - increasing engagement.

What does this mean for traditional engagement surveys?

Measuring engagement on its own isn’t enough. High scores on a traditional engagement survey probably tell us that the business is performing well. Low scores tell us that it isn’t. So what? Why are we bothering to measure something that’s not likely to be news to us? An engagement score is simply the canary in the coal mine - if it’s not healthy, the business isn’t either. But focussing on fixing the canary is missing the point.

As Josh Bersin of Deloitte Consulting puts it:

One of the issues we must address is the aging idea of an employee engagement survey. While such measures of engagement have been used for years, organisations tell us they aren’t providing modern, actionable solutions.

A more effective way of driving business performance

What leaders need is a way to measure how the business is doing in every area that influences business success, in real time. But more than measurements, they need solutions.

We set out to address this problem by first analysing the world’s top leadership models to identify the 13 ‘organisational success factors’ that are common to the most successful businesses. These encompass leadership, performance development and culture, but also everything from strategy and business processes, through to communications and project planning. Then we built these into a complete survey system that involves everyone in identifying actionable solutions. 

Don't just measure engagement - create it

The benefit of using AskYourTeam in place of - or alongside - a traditional engagement survey is twofold: It lifts business performance (our main goal), but it also creates engagement - both through improved performance, and through the very act of participation in the system.

Let's think back to those three drivers of engagement. Here's how AskYourTeam impacts each of them:

1. Work. By asking people what they need to be more effective and putting their suggestions into action, individual performance, pride and satisfaction in work is improved.

2. Autonomy. People are given the opportunity to influence business decisions and have a stake in the outcomes.

3. Manager. Managers demonstrate that they’re listening and that they value their employees’ expertise.

Focus on improving performance in a positive way, and watch engagement levels and business success soar. 

Chris O’Reilly

Chris co-founded AskYourTeam as a way to make it easier for leaders to ask their teams the most important (and the least-asked) question in business: “How can I help you do your job better?”