Recent advancements in technology have substantially changed how we measure engagement. Weekly, daily, even hourly assessments are now possible. Current solutions make measuring engagement faster, easier, cheaper and more democratized — anyone can do it. These developments have sparked many innovative software products, such as a new pulse capability in Willis Towers Watson Employee Engagement Software, which will be released early next year. However, although technology-driven enhancements have greatly influenced how we measure engagement, they have not yet had an impact on what we’re measuring and why, and more important what we do with the findings. But can we even expect new software solutions to influence these fundamental issues? At their core, these are not issues that technology alone can solve. To be sure, compared with the annual survey “event,” current technology represents a genuine step change in providing faster and more flexible ways to capture employee opinion. And that’s great. But as anyone who’s ever worked inside a large company and tried to enhance employee engagement knows, that’s only part of the problem — and it’s not the hardest part. The biggest challenge is provoking action and meaningful change based on the information in order to improve engagement and business performance. That’s why we measure engagement in the first place.

While it may be desirable to capture employee views more quickly and frequently, often “in real time,”,or to provide a more user-friendly interface for viewing employee opinion, these capabilities in and of themselves do not enhance business performance. Put another way: If I sent you a letter the old-fashioned way (with a stamp) containing information you didn’t care about, didn’t understand and/or weren’t inclined to act on, would it make any difference if I had overnighted it to you instead, or sent it via email, or text message? No. Simply using a faster, more dynamic format doesn’t change the fundamental content.

In the same way, unless you understand engagement information and its implications for your business such that you are motivated to take action, know what action to take and have the skill to perform effectively, nothing productive will result. At Willis Towers Watson, we ensure a strong ROI from any engagement survey work by combining leading technology with world-class consulting services, and it’s this combination that changes everything. We have hundreds of consultants with decades of experience working in major markets around the world helping clients translate insights about employee engagement into concrete actions that improve business results. But technology alone, no matter how innovative, will not deliver that kind of value. It’s only possible when you ask the right questions (relevant to the company’s unique strategy) and validate the impact on performance. Some recent examples of where we’ve proven and quantified the link between what we measure and key performance indicators in various industries include:

  • Product shrink in retail
  • Blood stream infections in health care
  • Client satisfaction in professional services
  • Defect rates in manufacturing
  • Physician prescriptions in pharmaceuticals
  • Truck turnaround time in logistics

Further we have found that across industries companies with high scores on all aspects of our measure of sustainable engagement outperform their sectors in terms of earnings growth by an average of 18%.

But merely demonstrating the impact of sustainable engagement on business performance in general is not sufficient. While this might generate attention and heighten the motivation to act, ultimately opportunities must be framed in the context of an organization’s business and accompanied by concrete action plans, based on experience and expertise. That’s why at Willis Towers Watson we place so much emphasis on delivering results to senior leaders in person, which enables us to draw out the business implications and required next steps for translating the findings into business improvements. In addition, we leverage our broad range of human capital expertise to provide specific action suggestions to all managers throughout the client company based on their unique set of findings.

Some say that software has fundamentally “changed the game” when it comes to employee engagement. After all, great technology is changing the world in many important ways. It’s never been easier to capture employee views, and this has made measuring employee engagement far less burdensome. And we’re particularly proud that our software is infused with the deep insights we’ve been sharing with clients for decades. But we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that driving engagement is not, fundamentally, a technology problem. Rather it’s a problem born of a lack of understanding, motivation and skill. While it may more rapidly expose these challenges, technology alone is ill equipped to solve them. Insights regarding employee engagement must be put into a business context and translated into action by informed and motivated managers and leaders. That has always been and will continue to be the key hurdle.