Engagement – we get what we measure

measuring tapeEngagement is now so well established as a prime determinant of performance that is seems to have become a victim of its own success.

We have ways of measuring it, and orthodoxies around what causes it. We believe we understand it.

What if we don’t?

A comparison. In the learning and development world, there is a revolution taking place. Orthodoxy has it, for the last several hundred years, that the “course” is the way for people to learn. The course itself adapted to the rise of technology by going online – the same concept, improved, with added bells and whistles. However, the “course” suffers from a fatal flaw in the era of big data and machine learning. It is aimed at the average. The course is designed for scale, to apply education to large numbers of people economically, consistently and measurably (via qualifications). Problem is, qualifications measure the wrong thing – knowledge, versus what matters – application in the real world under real world conditions.

To take it to an extreme, every course meets the optimum needs of very few people – those closely clustered around the mean. Everyone else is an outlier at varying distances. They’re learning something designed for somebody else.

In the age of compliance that was fine, but now, as we enter a time when we need every shred of originality and creativity (whilst we automate the compliance tasks) it’s downright dangerous.

Perhaps engagement is the same. We fall victim of accepting a number, derived at a point in time, under false circumstances (a survey).

Engagement is as varied as learning. What engages you will not perfectly engage me. Measuring engagement around what’s easy, and reported as a variation on the average will not do.

We need data

Real time, granular, detailed, personal. There is no real reason why we can’t.  Every digital transaction, from a till entry to an order carries potential information. Why can’t we measure peaks and troughs of engagement in the same way as we measure footfall?

The answer of course is that we can – we just don’t. We accept orthodoxy, measurement of what’s easy, and become “wilfully blind

Engagement is vital, and will become more so. Digital engagement is becoming ever better, and in so doing raises the bar. As our automated interactions become better, so the transition to human interaction becomes ever more demanding. Moving from a helpful robot to a miserable human is an instant deal killer.

HR has long been the gatekeeper of engagement, but if we want to access the decision maker, it’s the people with the real time data. All we have to do is design the questions we wish to ask.

For engagement, like education, it’s the end of average, episodic, measurement. If we want to succeed, its time to go real time.


The Productivity Paradox

The media is alive this morning regarding the long standing issues we have on productivity. Emphasis is on how lack of productivity is restricting income growth which is restricting the economy. First port of call is whose fault it is, and the default route that it’s all about low cost labour.

Probably, all of these things have a degree of truth to them, but in the scheme of things are secondary.

Productivity is low because we are still trying to improve the things we have been doing or making, rather than doing or creating new things.

at GrowHouse, we understand the power- and the limitations – of improvement better than most. We keep our process excellence ninjas keen and hungry, but in the end, improvement is an exercise in diminishing marginal returns. Get even close to six sigma measures, and getting incremental improvement on 97%+ levels of efficiency is an exercise in rock breaking.

Innovation on the other hand creates a class of activity that resets the game. Not only do we start with new services and products, but we have a whole new field on which to let loose the ninjas.

But innovation – and it’s big ugly sibling invention – require different skills, mindsets, and leadership. they have higher levels of risk, and require purpose and passion.

We have a paradox – most of the measures we take to motivate improvement kill the creativity on which innovation thrives:

  • Have people work for an expected reward.
  • Focus people on the expectation of being evaluated.
  • Deploy lots of checking and surveillance.
  • Make them follow a limited range of processes
  • And make it a competitive exercise.

(a major nod to Margaret Heffernan – “A bigger prize”)

If we really want to improve productivity, we need to innovate at every level. To explore possibility, and let people’s imagination loose.

Most of our structures, management processes and leadership practice pay lip service to this, and fall back on an evaluation mindset. It is the same principle that applies to the way we are educating tomorrows staff – and it’s substantially flawed and counterproductive.

The fast growing economies have cottoned on to this – China, Korea, and the like. they are changing the way they collaborate, create and lead. We need to do the same. Doing more of what we’re doing won’t solve it.

We’re running a series of exploratory conversations with people to explore possibility. The first is in Derby on 28th May, and we’ll be running the next in London. If you want to explore that space where knowledge ends, and possibility begins, we’d love you to join us.

Gene Therapy for Business?

I wrote recently about business life cycles and our unwillingness to accept them – in particular the death end of them. We get really attached to current success, or even just acceptability, and look to defend it. We resist ideas that might upset the balance, or indicate radical change as anomalies, when in reality they offer huge opportunity.

There is a great article just published by BCG. It argues, cogently, that there is no such thing as “Corporate DNA”. Businesses don’t just evolve naturally, they need confident action. They cite businesses like GE, Siemens and Apple who have forced change in their business, abandoning obsolescing business models before they became a liability. They anticipated (but had probably not identified) the likes of Lenovo, which in 30 years has gone from a $25,000 start up in a Guard House, to a $39 billion business operating in 60 countries in 30 years.The article emphasises the inevitability of increased volatility as technology continues to have it’s way, and the corresponding need for business (R)evolution if companies are to survive.

What it does not say, but I think is implicit, is what this does to the business / employee relationship. I suggest it makes it far more honest, even if far more challenging.

We have been used to employers as “guardians”, where we develop a tacit relationship where we bring our skills and perform, and they look after us. This has not been the case for many years (although the memory lingers, fostered by Job Ads and HR speak)

Today, it is simple, and honest. Employment is a relationship of convenience, forged by matching needs of skill and requirement, for as long as it lasts – which is getting ever shorter.

For those of us who sit in the wake of corporates, it is a real wake up call. As businesses, or individuals, we are as healthy as our ability to match emerging requirements makes us.

Success yesterday, and today, is comforting, but seducing. As the rate of change accelerates, we become obsolescent quickly unless we learn and develop on our own terms – not other people’s.

As individuals, we need to adopt different mindsets. Of curiosity, “constructive paranoia” and adaptability. We need to manage a paradox – to be great at what we do today, secure in the knowledge it will soon be redundant.

Our futures are a function of mindset, a business or career model that knows what to do next, without necessarily knowing where it will lead, and the motivation and purpose that will drive us through the challenges these changing conditions will give us.

The time for being a business or career tourist – going where others have already been, is past. It’s time to be an explorer.

We need to find out how to modify our business and career DNA.