What Mosquitos and Bees Can Teach Us About Employee Engagement and People Analytics
Sometimes, you have to take the time and count things to really understand what is happening. Counting is tedious and not much fun, but you can learn a lot when you count and categorize. In its most basic form, counting is the heart of data science and people analytics. We count things to see what the data tell us.
This notion that counting is important is illustrated by a question my 11-year old son asked me the other day. With a twinkle in his eye he probed “Dad, what animal kills more people each year than all other animals combined?” Knowing my son is eleven, I immediately thought of sharks, lions, tigers, or bears – the usual suspects. I sent back my answer with some authority. “Sharks,” I affirmed as I heard Jon William’s sound track from Jaws running through my head. Delighted, my son exclaimed, “Wrong!” I then guessed tigers. Wrong again! He then shared with me the obvious answer, “It’s mosquitos.”
A similar anecdote involves bees. Nine out ten people will incorrectly answer that sharks kill more people than bees. But, when you consider allergic reactions, common bees are six times deadlier than the world’s apex aquatic predator. In both instances, all I needed to do was compare mortality rates, and the answer would have been obvious. I just needed to take my time and count.
After minimal consideration, both results, mosquitos and bees, make perfect sense. But, a shark attack is news-worthy, and so the availability bias rears its head and takes over (we give greater weight to those things we see more often or those which are emotionally charged). Yet, I was personally troubled by the fact that I didn’t see through this bias. I am trained to understand cognitive biases and how to avoid them. The truth, however, is that we miss the obvious all the time. Not until we take our time and patiently count, do we begin to see the patterns that really matter.
People Analytics Finds Patterns
Finding patterns is why we conduct employee engagement surveys for our clients. We help them with the not-so-fun process of counting (i.e., measuring) their employee’s opinions and feelings. Skeptics often ask why do we care what employees think or feel? Shouldn’t leadership set the course based on their experience, judgment, and, hopefully, better information? No! We can’t change anything unless we first change our thoughts and feelings. No leader, no matter how charismatic or skilled, can effectively implement organizational change unless she first understands the organization’s underlying belief systems. It should be fairly obvious that to change one’s thinking, one must first understand what he or she believes in the first place.
If you have a manager that leaves a wake of carnage and destruction, it’s easy to see that team engagement is suffering. But, what about those managers that silently infect their team with malaria-like apathy? When we measure employee engagement through a well-designed employee survey, we are able to spot latent engagement killers, which are the worst kind of killers. When damage is slow to manifest itself, the impact is lost in the all the other noise swirling around the organization. In a world where talent and resources are scarce, organizations need to fight engagement killers wherever they are found, especially those that are latent.
4 Ways People Analytics Help Identify Destructive Engagement Killers.
- Commit to conducting an annual survey each year. This not only helps you see what is happening and avoid biases, it goes a long way to creating a culture of feedback and openness. And, it lays the foundation for organizational change by establishing base-line beliefs.
- Look for managers where employee engagement is high. We suggest looking at those that are one standard deviation from your organization’s norm based on your survey’s anchor questions that measure engagement. By looking at areas where engagement is high, you will uncover potential best practices that might help you identify drivers and variables for additional data modeling. You might even begin to see those key characteristics that will predict employee engagement.
- Identify pockets where employee engagement engagement is low using this same notion of one standard deviation. Only this time you look at those areas that are one standard deviation below the normal distribution pattern. Once you have identified any segments that need help, we recommend further assessments to see where things might be going off the rails. [add links to our other team assessments, etc.]. Once again, you will want to search for what belief-systems are pervasive in your low performing areas.
- Create a specific post-survey action item to look for latent engagement killers. It’s easy when exploring data from an engagement survey to see the obvious challenges. But, it’s harder to find the problems that might be buried in the data. We suggest that once the results have been rolled out to your team, make sure you go back and revisit the survey and dig deeper. Maybe you conduct a follow-on pulse survey, or you set up focus groups.
Remember, sometimes the answer is obvious, but only once you commit to counting. If you are already counting your employees through a robust survey strategy, then start looking deeper into the people analytics to see where those infectious mosquitoes might be swarming.