If you’ve been reading my previous posts, you know that I believe deeply and passionately – and have compiled a great-deal of hard-nosed economic evidence – that the way for organizations to thrive is to get really good at the “people side” of their business. (See, for example, Three Things You Must Get Right to Be a Good Employer and  Human Capital Management Predicts Stock Prices.)

So it might come as a surprise that I’m not a fan of HR’s love affair with “employee engagement.”  Sure, organizations need engaged employees. The problem is that it takes way more than engaged employees to truly unleash human capability in your organization. By focusing – some might say obsessing – on employee engagement, HR professionals (and the CEOs who have bought this perspective hook, line, and sinker) miss the opportunity to truly align people and profits. In so doing, they do a disservice to both.

Here are three myths that get in the way of firms operating in the “sweet spot” – the intersection of enlightened and profitable management of people:

Myth #1--The drivers of employee engagement are the same across organizations.

In our HR analytics work with clients, we routinely use employee surveys to measure and (statistically) link human capital management to organizations’ business results. This work enables us to identify with precision the specific practices that lead to increased employee engagement, higher sales, greater customer satisfaction, as well as other key performance indicators.


What we’ve found is striking: the drivers of employee engagement across various organizations tend to be more different than they are similar. This is even true among businesses within the exact same industry. So if someone comes to you with a one-size-fits-all employee engagement survey, throw them out of your office.

Myth #2--The drivers of employee engagement are the same as the drivers of business results.

We consistently find that the top drivers of employee engagement have little (or no) overlap with the top drivers of an organization’s business results.

For example, in a professional services firm we found the employee survey items most highly correlated with differences in teams’ sales productivity were the following:
•    Work in my company is well organized so that I can do a quality job.
•    My company has processes in place for actively seeking customer feedback.

In contrast, the questions most highly correlated with employee engagement were the following:
•    My company has been successful in building a sense of empowerment in employees.
•    My job makes good use of my skills and talents.

Hence, if a firm were to focus exclusively on improving the drivers of employee engagement, it should not expect to see any improvements in its sales.  If it wants to drive better sales results, it needs to focus on the (different) set of items that are actually driving sales.

Myth #3--Employee engagement should be maximized.

If the drivers of employee engagement and business results were the same thing, then maximizing engagement would be the right thing to do. But since that is not the case (see myth #2), then attempting to maximize employee engagement can really take an organization in the wrong direction.

HR professionals who only measure engagement, without also looking at drivers of business results, are missing an opportunity to truly align their efforts with meeting their organization’s business challenges.

Laurie Bassi is CEO of McBassi&Company. lbassi@mcbassi.com