Be careful with generalizations

I had an interesting experience in a pilot class on employee engagement that shows the importance of keeping the focus on individuals and resisting the urge to roll-up data. 

During the class, we anonymously polled the ten participants on the degree to which they were getting their needs met in our eight employee passion areas: meaningful work, fairness, growth, autonomy, collaboration, recognition, connectedness with leader and connectedness with colleagues.  We averaged all of the scores to get a class average in each of the areas.

The overall results were good, ranging from a low of 72% in the Collaboration category to a high of 86% in the Fairness category, but they didn’t tell the real story.  While the overall class scores looked good, a review of individual answers showed that an individual’s assessment looked more like this:

Meaningful Work                                       90% needs met
Fairness                                                       40% needs met
Growth                                                         40% needs met
Autonomy                                                    100% needs met
Collaboration                                             100% needs met
Recognition                                                 70% needs met
Connectedness with Leader                     30% needs met
Connectedness with Colleagues             100% needs met

This pattern was repeated time and again on each student’s individual assessment except that the highs and lows were different for each person.  While the average made it seem like employee’s needs were being met at a 70% plus level, the reality was that people were having dramatically different experiences in the organization. 

As you consider organizational assessments, be sure that you do not miss the power in individual responses. For leaders looking to address issues in their organizations and meet the needs of their people, it’s important to remember to test, address, and manage at the one-to-one level.

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