Saturday, February 9, 2019

Optimization, Trending and Reflective Learning for Better Employee Analytics

Optimization, Trending and Reflective Learning for Better Employee Analytics

Key words:  Employee surveys, optimization metrics, trending data, reflective learning and diversity and inclusion

February 9, 2019

Optimization and Trending are Key to High Quality Analytics Initiatives

With escalating interest in analytics and data, leaders are spending large amounts of money and time finding the right data that will lead to better decision making. When it comes to employee survey data or perhaps even metrics focused on customers, two key aspects have received less attention, and in this short article, I review the importance of these two concepts. I do so through an example from the Leadership Pulse data.

Most scales and metrics associated with data collection from individuals at work (customers or employees) tend to focus on the importance of maximization. Organizations collect data to maximize scores on satisfaction or engagement on a variety of topics (e.g. pay, leadership, resources at work, etc.). However, should all these metrics be based on a maximization scale? Should employees be maximally satisfied? Do we perhaps need some level of dissatisfaction to drive individuals to make their situation a bit better?

At least one area of work that I have studied since the late 1990s, employee energy, is not best studied by focusing on maximization. With over 1 million data points collected from employees around the world, we have been able to analyze the predictive capability of studying average and optimization scores on energy. In all cases, optimization wins.

Energy is defined as the ability to do work; this definition comes from physics. And in physics or sports physiology, energy is understood to be an optimization construct. The sports analogy is well understood by anyone who begins an exercise program. When working out, we are told to measure our pulse, and no doctor or coach suggests that we always maximize our body pulse. You find out the zone where you will be at your best, where you burn optimal calories, and you learn how to exercise in the zone.

Absolute value of energy gap predicts performance

We learned the same concept applies when we study employee energy at work. We ask employees where their energy is today, where they are at their best, and then we calculate the absolute  value of the gap between those two numbers. Employees with higher individual performance, higher sales, higher quality scores, who are more prone to stay in their jobs and who have better safety records all have lower gaps between optimal energy (where they are at their best) and working energy (energy today). 

Our questions focus on an energy scale that ranges from 0 to 10; both 0 and 10 are suboptimal numbers. At a pulse that is too high, it can cause damage. A ten at work means that you  have so much input and work that you cannot process it all; you are at risk of burnout and can’t sustain at that level. Thus, people who report a ten need help.

Our job as managers, leaders and coaches or as individuals managing our careers is to learn how to keep energy levels at rates that are optimal vs. highest. We find that people in different occupations report differing optimal energy levels. For example, sales people say they are best at a 9, while engineers and programmers usually report they are at their best at a 6 or 7. The difference is that one job requires high levels of interaction and rejection, while the other needs time to concentrate.

Trending is also key to helping employees be at their best

Our other key learning is that asking about energy once a year does not help a leader evolve into a better leader, not does it help employees learn to optimize their own energy. Trending data with more frequent reporting and learning makes a positive difference.

Consider the example below:

This graph show data rolled up from the Leadership Pulse from 2004 to 2018. The shaded in area represents the zone where respondents report they are at their best (optimal energy), and the single line below shows where they are at the time of the pulse survey (working energy). Only in 2006 and in 2015 did the leaders come close to being ‘in the zone.’

These data led to a tremendous amount of learning over the years. The biggest insight may be in the importance of reflective learning as part of any metrics strategy.

Reflective learning: An opportunity to take your analytics strategy to the next level

In our work on employee energy, we learned that employee energy fluctuates dramatically;  thus, we set up our process of data collection to be more frequent than what is used with most other employee data collection strategies. We often collect data as frequently as weekly, and in some cases, we have done daily work. Most people think this is an unreasonable thing to ask of employees; however, because we created from day one a learning process that provides feedback directly to each employee, we are putting employees in the middle of the learning and improvement process. The energy optimization frequently process is an engagement tool for individual employees and leaders. 

When employees get their own data, we teach employees and managers to use reflective learning techniques to understand their data and  make their own personal changes to see positive results.  
Employees get their own data, reflect on what they see, focus on understanding cause and effect and make changes. Employees own the data; employees own the change; employee and employers benefit from the results. It’s not a once a year process, and it’s bottoms up vs. tops down learning with small, continual behavioral changes.

The Case of Diversity and Inclusion

What better use of reflect learning, optimization work and trending than diversity and inclusion. This is an area receiving great attention today. That’s because after years of top-down training initiatives, we are discovering that much of what we thought was being learned is not being acted upon.
Diversity and inclusion initiatives, just like employee engagement, should not be once a year initiatives. We can’t force people to change their attitudes and behavior. Learning processes that use reflective learning, reinforced with data, can have significant changes immediately and ongoing.


Much of the focus on employee data collection work is done under the auspice of improving the business, however, in too many cases a lot of money is put into data collection efforts done for public relations purposes rather than for internal improvement. The questions asked are usually not relevant, and employees are not using the data to improve their own lives. This is a big miss.
Not only are the concepts of optimization and trending important for anyone seeking an effective metrics strategy, but being willing to share ownership to employees, or using employee-centric engagement as a strategy will be key to gaining competitive advantage.

Learn more at:

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Continuous Leadership Learning

The New Leadership Pulse  

Ready for the Relaunch 

In 2003 we started an experiment in learning - we called it the Leadership Pulse. The idea hatched at the University of Michigan (when I was on the faculty) to take the innovations we developed at eePulse, Inc. to a larger audience. 

In a partnership with the University of Michigan Executive Education program, we started doing quarterly pulses with the alumni who went through their programs. We blended two new ideas to make this offering unique and useful to people who contributed.

1) Personal diaries and reflective learning 

In most survey work, you participate and then wait a long time to get feedback. The person running the survey closes the survey, reviews the data, analyzes the data, and writes up a report. In 2003 (and still today) our eePulse technology had the unique feature of providing every individual survey taker with a personal report. We did this because we were the first company (that we found) to start using pulse technology with companies as frequently as weekly. What we quickly learned was that if you expect people to answer your questions frequently, then they need something in exchange, and we opted to provide new learning. Back in 1996 we developed personal reports for our survey participants; when surveys closed, rather than waiting around for a report, every respondent could log in and see their own scores vs. benchmark data. We provided information on how to use the data for their own development. 

2) Data on employee energy at work 

Also, in 1996 I started a large research study on employee energy. Thus, in addition to a series of other topics studied, in every pulse we collected data on employee energy. These series of studies helped us improve and continue to validate the work on energy. We found over the years that frequent measures of employee energy PREDICT important individual and organizational outcomes. Energy fluctuates a lot more than other attitudinal metrics, thus, studying variance and the gap between working energy and optimal energy provides key metrics for prediction and performance. 

Combine energy and reflective learning for leaders and you get Leadership Pulse 101. 

We continued the Leadership Pulse, trending energy and adding questions on several different themes. Over the years as my career changed, I moved the project to the University of Southern California's Center for Effective Organizations (CEO). With this team the Leadership Pulse has evolved.

I put the overall body of work on hold for a couple of years while I took on a new job and took some time out to rethink and improve. 

In a few weeks you will get an email about the new Leadership Pulse, and I hope you join us in this new learning opportunity.  We're taking what we learned over the years and giving the Leadership Pulse an upgrade. 

We are building on the self or reflective learning, adding new technology including digital badges and we are focused on making the process more useful for leaders and soon-to-be leaders who want to improve their skills. 

We continue to work with the University of Southern California's Center for Effective Organizations, and with that team of thought leaders we provide insights and contributions to help our members learn. As we continue, you will see other universities and thought leaders joining our team, and this overall team will provide better connections, new insights, and real-time and relevant learning. 

Join Leadership Pulse 201 - remodeled, rethought and moving learning forward. 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Employee-Centric Engagement for 2018

If you are looking to upgrade, update or improve your employee engagement program in 2018, consider doing something radically new. 


We've been experimenting the last few years with a new approach to employee engagement that we call employee-centric engagement, and we are discovering that it is a much-needed add on to traditional employee engagement programs, and this approach does not eliminate the traditional work in engagement, but it enhances it in a new way that puts that employee at the center.

The idea came from some work that I did many years ago in the area of productivity gainsharing.  Through a series of studies I found that even though much attention was given to sharing wealth and calculating formulas to share the gains, it seemed like the real benefit from the programs was not coming from the money but from having employees in charge of generating ideas, validating ideas and presenting ideas for productivity improvement.

We took those ideas (which are core to many other programs used over the years) and combined them with the work we had been doing at eePulse on energy pulsing. The result was a unique model for putting employees and a team of ambassadors in charge of the energy pulsing process, and using the individual employee reflection, brainstorming and ideation tools - along with root cause analysis - to help move from learning to idea generation to idea implementation to strong ROI from change.

Managers are in the coaching role instead of struggling with interpretation of bits of data from surveys.

Employees work with ambassadors by reflecting on their own data, in their own energy pulsing reports. The employees and managers find ideas and do the work necessary to present a limited number of ideas to managers. They all work together on implementation.

The whole process engages everyone - managers no longer feel the survey is a secret performance appraisal method.  Employees feel very engaged.  Employees are learning from their own data. And ambassadors, who are people interested in learning more about management, thrive by being a role that helps everyone.

2018 - it's the year to put the employee in the middle of employee engagement.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Innovate, Disrupt and Improve Your Survey and Engagement Tools

The employee survey has taken root in many organizations. In fact, in some organizations it may have not only solidly embedded itself but also infested the organization because it causes more harm than good.

Perhaps that is because the survey and engagement processes have not evolved. Yes, technology has changed the process to be on line vs. using paper. But check out what's being done these new new on-line surveys – not much.

The availability of survey technology has led to more use of prettier and slicker tools, but at its core the process remains unchanged.  There is nothing innovative or disruptive about the way employee or customer surveys are done. In fact, the technology is so simple to use that often even less thought is taken about what questions to ask or why they are being asked.

Think about the annual employee survey. In many firms it is a required and sacred process that seems to be changing at a snail’s pace. We ask questions that, in reality, managers can't do anything about, but we give them the results to develop action plans. There is no accountability for the actions other than raising scores.

Why do we care if the score goes from 80% favorable to 82% favorable? Is that really a cause for celebration? What is gained from a 2% change? What if the improvement comes at a cost of employees being less efficient and productive? The link between these minuscule gains in score and firm performance are almost never studied or known. 

The annual survey is an annual report - so treat it like one. Who uses the annual report to manage the business or to make decisions?  No one. 

If you want a tool that truly helps managers make better decisions and that also uses the voice of the employee to help provide better insights, then you have to radically disrupt your survey process because doing the same thing with a different vendor is not going to help you.

Transforming Surveys into Leadership Tools with Energy at the Core 

* The new survey and engagement tool should do what engagement was originally intended to do -- that is, help employees bring their best selves to work. 

* The transformed engagement process does 2 things: 1) employee brings best self to work via doing new behaviors 2) and those activities are in sync with business goals and objectives.

* Most managers hate getting survey data back with the dictate to do something. They don't know what to do; the data they get back to them is whining about things they can't fix. The transformed survey and engagement tool remedies this with a proven methodology that brings solutions to the manager NOT problems. 

* The transformed survey is not a survey; employees say it is a "communication and continuous improvement" process. 

Transform and then What? 

The transformed process includes documentation of return on investment (ROI). We record ROI data and ROI stories. The power of these stories is to continuously transform. 

Learn more about this process by contacting me at: