Employee Engagement

Performance and engagement: a powerful data combination

October 23, 2018
June 13, 2024
Lattice Team

Performance and engagement are linked. High-performing employees are a product of effective engagement practices. And engaged employees are a product of effective management.

If you look at engagement and performance individually, this becomes even more clear. Engaged workers can be defined as people who are enthusiastic about their work and their company. This enthusiasm translates into employees who are high performing, productive workers who are eager to stay at the company.

In fact, a recent report from Harvard Business Review found that one of the most impactful employee engagement drivers is performance management -- that is, activities like recognition; communication; training and development; business, company, and employee goals; and performance assessment.

Source: https://hbr.org/resources/pdfs/comm/achievers/hbr_achievers_report_sep13.pdf

To use an example: as Adobe has perfected their performance management process over the past 4 years, there has been a 10 percent increase in affirmative replies to the question “I would recommend Adobe as a great place to work.”

Performance management leads to more engaged employees, while more engaged employees have higher performance -- which also makes them more engaged, which makes them happier to connect with performance management activities such as check-ins, feedback, and so on.

It’s an infinite loop.

But it’s hard for companies to get this right. According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace last year, 85% of employees around the world are not engaged, or actively disengaged at work. Sometimes, you get situations like these:

  • Employees feel indifferent to the company because it seems like the company is indifferent to them
  • Managers are not making time or effort for employees, meaning even if they have check-ins or give feedback, employees feel left in the dark
  • Managers and employees alike are not getting enough feedback to improve their performance
  • Goals are too low -- so the employee feels bored; or they’re too high -- so the employee feels like they’re drowning
  • Employees don’t understand how their work is related to the company’s growth and revenue

And on, and on, and on. And what happens with the loop is that each of these problems get worse -- an indifferent employee has lower performance, while not enough feedback means engagement will weaken.There’s just so many ways that the loop can make or break a company culture. While the loop can be strong and beneficial to the company, it needs constant care to avoid situations like the above.

Because if you don’t have that constant care, you end up with situations like Max.

You know a Max. Max had been at his company for a little over 2 years. His first year and a half was awesome. He felt challenged, he had a good manager, and he was achieving his goals.

After a year and a half at the company, though, everything changed. One small adjustment to the company’s product line, and all of his closest colleagues and his managers were let go. Over the course of the next 5 months, he reported to 4 different people. There was no sentiment analysis, no survey, no 1:1 conversations with managers about development.

He made plans to move on -- after all, it was clear the company didn’t value him.

However, the company, despite all the signs, had no idea. When he submitted his two weeks, his manager was completely blindsided. He shouldn’t have been -- Max wasn’t the only high performer that was leaving, and in some cases they left for direct competitors. His exit was predictable and preventable for several reasons -- he was clearly disengaging from the company, and the company was not paying attention.

So how do you spot a Max at your company?

Looking at the stories versus the numbers

There are two types of data: qualitative data (stories), and quantitative data (numbers). You need both to get the clearest sense of how engaged your employees are.

Understanding engagement is all about analyzing an individual employees’ journey -- their stories as told during 1:1s, the feedback they get from their managers and coworkers, and their marked changes every performance review. This qualitative data captures the narrative that an employee is following over the course of their time at the company -- whether they’re growing into stronger and stronger performers, or getting set back by little things, or slowly improving at their own pace. Gathered together in a performance management system, their performance management data has a very specific story to tell around an employee’s level of engagement.

On its own, performance management systems provide a lot of information for managers, employees, and leaders to read and follow, but certain stories around one individual can unfairly define the narrative for the whole company One employee might be a high performer, but their team doesn’t benefit -- or a team might be working really well together, but that isn’t reflected in their individual performance evaluations.

That’s where an engagement survey comes in -- it can tell you definitively how employees are feeling, across dozens of categories, such as tenure, department, manager, gender, and more. But without individual data as well, it’s very easy to make sweeping conclusions -- even if you know correlation doesn’t mean causation.

With just performance data, you’ll have a lot of content, but you’ll only see the patterns of individuals, not of whole teams or companies, which you can with engagement surveys. And with just engagement surveys, you won’t have enough context for each data point you get.

With both, you get exactly the kind of data to know how to keep top performers engaged, and find out how to get low performers to improve.

For example, we’ve all seen countless cases that reaffirm the dictum, “Employees don’t leave jobs, they leave managers.”

Based on that, it might be good to look at how engaged employees are by manager, by the numbers:

As you can see here, Ralph Flan’s team’s engagement levels are low. They’re not all at danger levels, but it’s definitely pretty stark in comparison to Deborah’s team’s numbers. 

At first, it seems clear: he’s just a bad manager. But you also know those numbers aren’t the whole story.  It might also be time to reassess how you’re measuring the performance of that whole department -- maybe the unfair pressure is getting to Flan, and his team is suffering as well. That’s why you need the qualitative data of performance management. You need to look at their last performance review (both to and from employees). Check out the notes from their 1:1s. Finally, look at what kind of feedback they’re giving to, and getting from, employees. Talk to him, and talk to his team.

The power of connecting performance and engagement data

By measuring engagement across performance level, you’re able to get a multidimensional look at how your employees are feeling. You’ll be able to spot any problems -- both present and future -- immediately. Such a chart also helps you prioritize where you need to put your attention. It’s all good to focus on managing your low performers better, but what about your top performers -- could they be disengaging?

In the cross section of performance and engagement, you can see that top performers are feeling very disengaged. In fact, with numbers like that, they could be planning to jump ship. Any employee leaving can cost your company, but a top performer leaving is much worse. Seeing a top performer leave can tip the scales of commitment, purpose, and trust your employees have in the company.

All these situations have one thing in common: they’re easy to miss, but simple to fix.

Max’s company and manager certainly didn’t see it coming, but that’s because they didn’t have access to the whole story. With performance and engagement together, you’re able to spot problems before they really even become problems. Instead, you’re able to take a proactive stance on your company’s culture, for the good of your employees, your company, and your company’s overall productivity.

Interested in learning more?

Here are two ways to learn more about Lattice’s approach to employee engagement:

1) Schedule a demo with one of our product specialists to see the product in action.

2) Watch our webinar (10/2) to learn more about how to approach employee engagement and performance management. This webinar is not a product demo, but rather a framework for how to think about performance & engagement at your company.