Employee engagement done right!

Photo by Jade Masri on Unsplash

We love Cy Wakeman’s book “No Ego”, about the number of work hours that get wasted when we operate out of our own egos instead of focusing on self-reflection. In a recent keynote we had the pleasure of hearing, Wakeman emphasized that many leaders spend too much time engaging and motivating. Instead, they should drive good mental processes and focus the dialogue in 1:1s with employees on self-reflection, and that’s the key to an innovative and collaborative environment.

Wait, what, we shouldn’t focus on engagement?

Not focusing on engagement might sound like the worst strategy ever. But hang on, it’s about doing it right, not ignoring it! Wakeman means that engagement without accountability creates entitlement, which is counter-productive. To avoid that, we need to focus on asking the right questions, the ones that drive self-reflection and steer clear of opportunities for unproductive venting. In other words, we should all start asking ourselves what we know for sure about a specific situation and what we can do to improve it, not just ponder on the ways in which it’s bad. 

One way to do this is to revisit the traditional employee engagement survey and take a closer look at the questions we are asking our employees through the survey. Are the questions about what we can do together to improve the workplace, or are they merely focused on what’s not working? If the latter, it is probably time to revamp it.

Spotify’s five favorite ways to enable and measure engagement 

  1. Embrace self-leadership and encourage all employees to drive their own development. Not only does this empower our people but it also creates accountability for each employee to own their career trajectory.
  2. Make it safe to fail. At Spotify we are not afraid of being bold, taking on big bets or getting them wrong. This also drives accountability and engagement in the sense that when we fail we shift our mindset to focus on what we learned and what we can do right the next time. Because venting about what went wrong will not move the needle for our business.
  3. Measure engagement in both quantity and quality. The Spotify engagement survey has quantitative questions as well as open comment fields for employees to add context and share ideas on how we can become an even better employer. We also do quarterly pulse check-ins where we ask how likely our employees are to recommend Spotify as an employer to an acquaintance or a friend. This question also comes with a free text opportunity so employees can comment on their answer. Analysis of the free text answers gives great pointers to what needs to be fixed to enhance engagement.  
  4. Be disruptive – always innovate. We can’t inspire innovation in the organization if we don’t keep disrupting. Right now at Spotify, we’re discussing new ways of measuring engagement. How do we do it without creating entitlement? We’re looking for innovative ways to get an understanding of how employees feel, and drive the right actions. We’ll blog more about this as we go along.
  5. Be data-informed, not data-driven. People Analytics should never serve as the main or only data point of measuring engagement. For true effect, it needs to be used together with the HR insights of a dedicated and business-savvy team of HR Business Partners that truly understand the organizations they partner with. 

So to summarize; we all need and love engagement, but it needs to be done right or it can drive the wrong behaviors and results. And remember: ‘Your ego is not your amigo’, as Wakefield points out.