Measuring the Humanity of our Workplaces

It feels appropriate to start this exploration by stating that we are not complete hippies, and therefore, are not against measurement per se. In fact, we would argue that the emergence of employee engagement and culture surveys has raised the profile of intangible human issues in the workplace and that the intention and some of the impact has been very positive.

However, we also wonder about some of the negative impact of trying to measure the human / relational aspects of our organisations as we would the more tangible elements of performance and output.

Some of the things we have observed and question:

The frequency of measurement:

If you plant a seed you don’t dig it up every day to see how it is doing! Creating a sustainable shift in patterns of behaviour takes time, and so benchmarking activity can be useful as a means of acknowledging the start point, but measuring every month, quarter or even every year seems pointless and often counter-productive. We either kill the seed before it can germinate or give up watering it before it’s strong enough to break the surface and survive without constant and careful tending.

How the data is handled:

In making the intangible look tangible, surveys can lead to people dealing with these matters in the same way as tangible matters i.e. when we get a report that our manufacturing waste levels are too high, we can work through a production process and identify the sources of waste and then eliminate them, in a systematic, cause & effect way. However, when people say they don’t feel connected to organisational purpose… this is not a simple or even complicated issue, it’s complex, and needs the mindset, skillset and toolset to deal with complexity: creativity, connection and collaboration.

Surveys as organisational deflection:

it can be argued that we know when levels of trust are low in an organisation. Often, choosing to introduce a survey to measure how bad things are is just a way of procrastinating and avoiding facing into the issue. When we synthesise data into graphs and charts it distances us from the heart of the matter which is – how do we treat human beings in our organisation?. The graphs become the subject of discussion, which allows us to avoid asking ourselves the questions;
  1. Do I treat people with enough care?
  2. Do we have robust conversations, on an ongoing basis, about how we treat each other?
  3. Do we create environments conducive to and encouraging of connection and collaboration?


‘They (Surveys) create distance and therefore avoid intimacy’
~ Joan Scarrott

Time, money and energy spent measuring and reporting could be spent connecting, conversing and collaborating:

An employee engagement survey in a global organisation represents a huge investment of energy, time and money. Our view is that if this was invested in getting people to talk to each other, have better conversations, across the boundaries of the organisation, this would resolve most relational issues in organisations.

So how do we strike the balance and get the best out of using measures?

Anyone who has felt love or grief will know that there are powerful relational forces in our world that can’t be measured and managed like machines.
Creating proxy measures can be a useful way to establish benchmarks and, in our view, it would be much wiser to invest in helping people to have better conversations in their everyday work… perhaps we might be so bold as to suggest starting with how people meet.

We will explore some more examples of this is our next newsletter. In the meantime, it would be great to hear from you about where you have experienced measures working well. Or not…