Understanding Engagement: Moving beyond Measurement



Harry Greenspun, M.D.

Chief Medical Officer, Managing Director, Health Solutions

Korn Ferry

February 20, 2018

Like many people my age, I consider myself to be somewhat overweight and underconditioned. While at home, I manage my diet by cooking well-balanced meals and through brutal dessert-shaming by my kids. Unfortunately, while traveling, eating properly is more of a challenge. Most of my meals happen in airports, where burgers and cinnamon buns are remarkably convenient and enticing.
I do manage to exercise regularly, enabled by some great mobile apps. Initially I would just track my bike rides and runs, motivated by my position on leaderboards or the accolades friends would offer. The more activities I tracked, the more I became interested in the data being produced – my fastest mile, longest ride, average heart rate, best performance within my age group. Consequently, I began tracking more activities, including doing laps inside airport terminals rather than waiting at a gate. My personal best was 5.14 miles in Cleveland amid weather delays.
Some of the most interesting data, however, comes from exercising my dog Tarot. What I find quite consistently is that on our usual loop, we only spend about 75% of the time moving. In the words of our trainer, “The walk is for the dog,” meaning that it is his opportunity to patrol, sniff, greet, and mark, working his muscles and his brain. Initially, aside from warning squirrels, it was hard for me to understand what was behind the 25% of time he wasn’t engaged in walking. Tarot would suddenly go from walking straight, eyes up, to being nose down, moving side to side, to a coming to a complete halt.  
Then it snowed, and suddenly everything was clear. By seeing tracks in the snow, I could visualize what Tarot was experiencing. I could see that he would follow the meandering deer tracks along the side of the road or react to the trails of dogs he knows where they left their houses. He would pause by the pawprints of his friends Iggy the guide dog and Riley the Border Collie. He would mark where the goofy Labradoodle bounds out, or where the remarkably aggressive St. Bernard often snarls. Whenever we crossed paths where the neighborhood fox had roamed, he went on full alert.
In short, while I had excellent and consistent data on what was happening, I had no idea why, how I might predict it, or what I might do to change it. When I gained a new way of visualizing our activity together, I could understand his behavior, anticipate what might come next, and find ways for both of us to get more out of these excursions.
In many ways, this experience reminded me of what many organizations go through with their own engagement data. (Just to stave off any hate mail, please note that I am in no way likening relationships with employees to my relationship with my dog; it’s the concept of seeking enlightenment.) Numerous studies have shown the connection between an engaged workforce and value-driven outcomes, resulting in reinvigorating programs to measure engagement in healthcare. However, engagement data is only the beginning. Organizations must dig deeper to gain real insight and effect meaningful change.
My colleague Shannon Libbert recently wrote about this in “Engagement Matters for Healthcare.” 
In it, she highlights that for organizations to improve engagement, they must first commit to it, and then measure it effectively. Once the data is in hand, one must pursue four critical imperatives to increase engagement and achieve better performance: 
  1. Connect organizational mission to individual purpose
  2. Increase confidence in senior leadership
  3. Create opportunities for growth and development
  4. Build an attractive employer brand and employee value proposition
None of this can be done solely based on raw numbers. It requires a keen understand of the underlying issues and operating environment to be effective. Measurement is a critical element, but just the first step in this important journey.



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