Employee Engagement Singularity – Infinite Monkey Blogger Theorem

Paul Hebert Employee Engagement, Engagement and Satisfaction, Good HR, HR, Paul Hebert

I think it’s official. We’ve reached that point in the business world where absolutely nothing new can be added to the disaster that is employee engagement.

It’s not that I don’t think engagement is a noble cause. It is. But like Maslow’s highest level of human needs, “self-actualization” (which is bunk by the way – but you go on quoting it in your guru presos), there is no “real” definition of engagement we can agree on and there is absolutely NO WAY to measure it. But you keep working on it, okay? I’m sure the C-Suite will be happy to know you’ve moved the “engagement” number up 3.2% while spending the scant profit you made punching out canning jar lids. Engagement for the win! If nothing else, there will be an HR conference that needs someone to fill the now obligatory “engagement” track with more of the same from last year (or 2007 for that matter.)

Seriously, though. I think we’ve hit that point where you can take every single book, article, and post on engagement (including this one) and put them into digital word blender and it will spontaneously generate another “great” post on the best way to generate employee engagement (I’m betting it will also have a number in the headline – SEO rules!). The infinite monkeys have left the works of Shakespeare behind and are now squarely focused on employee engagement blogging. Another new post on engagement won’t help you make a dent in your employee engagement (again – including this one). Everything that can be done has been. We have reached that point with employee engagement where we can’t drive any additional improvement. We’ve been at roughly 30% for about 10 years. It isn’t changing.

We keep looking at engagement scores as if it is a number a company can influence. But I think that no matter what we do the number will be roughly 30% for the vast majority of companies. Always will be.

Why do I believe this?

Simple. Like almost any number attached to humans – engagement scores follow a distribution. Like height, weight, IQ… . If we look at a population of companies and plot their engagement scores we will find an all to0 familiar shape. This isn’t just speculation. Bersin by Deloitte had this chart in September:

Bersin curve

Like distributions for height, weight and whatnot – this is what it is – a pretty normal curve. And like height, no matter how hard we try, we can’t make everyone 7 feet tall. We can’t make everyone fall into the “healthy” weight zone no matter how many episodes of Biggest Loser we endure. The fact is humans are distributed. And because humans manage companies and humans are the key element in engagement you will almost always have a distribution that follows human tendencies. The bell curve above is what it is. It might, over time, move to the right a bit. Might.

But I’m sure you’re asking the same question Bersin asked about this chart: “But Paul… if we did what those at the top of the distribution wouldn’t we get those score, too?”  No, you can’t.

They have more money and better managers. AND… and this is a huge piece of information—they are outliers.

The greatest trick consultants have played on HR is to convince them they, too, can have the same engagement scores as zappos and Apple. No amount of consulting money you spend will make you an outlier. I take that back. It might. But the odds of that happening are the same as getting a chunk of that $45 million Facebook stock Mark Zuckerberg is giving away.

Instead of spending your money trying to be an outlier, spend your money helping your managers understand their employees better.

Train them better. Take care of their needs and maybe those engagement scores will get better. But don’t spend a dime on the “engagement pill du jour” – they don’t work. Sometimes 30% is your best number. Sometimes it is 32%. But you know in your heart of hearts you will never be an 80% engaged company. Heck – you make those little plastic screw-on caps that go on car tire air filler stems. Not an “apple-esque” business. It’s okay to be 32% engaged.

Impacting employee engagement is like managing weight – it always comes back to the basics. To manage your weight, you need to manage your nutrition and exercise. For engagement you need to manage and train your managers.

Go do that.

Or you can read the next post from the Infinite Monkey Consulting Firm.