An Eye Towards the Future of Employee Engagement

I just read a report on global human capital trends. While I wish it would have had more data than anecdotes, it contains several thought provoking chapters. One of the sections I found most interesting was on employee engagement.

Creating an environment where people want to work towards the organization’s goals is as old as employment itself. The report generally speaks to technology and data and in this chapter it makes the point that company culture is no longer an internal matter. Before the dotcom age, we only knew of an organization’s culture if we were acquainted with someone who worked there. Though, some were large enough that they had an image in the media (some of you may be old enough to remember The IBM man). This report says no more. Between social media and higher job switching, an organization’s culture is an open book.

Of course, this is a double-edged sword. In some cases this can be a recruiting tool (“See, we have an awesome culture. Come work for us!). In others, not so much. You can either chase a good culture (like managing YELP! ratings) or establish a great one.


Technology allows for more real-time access to data on culture and engagement (versus the once per year survey). I would recommend being wary of chasing a particular number, but rather use this data to measure change. More importantly, think about the process of creating a vibrant culture that people want to a part of.

Culture comes from the top—what the executives say and do. Engagement comes from individual employees—how they feel about their experience in the organization. The former is the cause and the latter is the effect. You will have a hard time “making” employees feel more engaged. However, you can create a culture where they will want to be so. Here are a few tips to start:

  • Have the executive team be explicit about the culture they want to create and how that translates into company policies AND their behavior. They must walk the talk.
  • Ask your workforce what they find engaging about the company. This should be taken into account above and leveraged in recruiting.
  • Ask your workforce what they find disengaging about the company. Look for ways to resolve these gaps (and be prepared to sacrifice some sacred cows).

What are you doing to create an engaging culture?

Do CEO Personality Traits Matter?

One could argue that the person who has the most impact on a company’s profitability is the CEO. Given the crazy compensation that some of them get, boards of directors certainly think this is the case. A lot goes into selecting CEOs and you can’t exactly conduct a validation study for one at your company (as if the board would allow science into the conversation anyway).

As it turns out, accountants are just as interested in this as HR professionals. This article summarizes this study of one particular CEO trait—narcissism. As you would suspect, their findings show that narcissistic CEOs are good for themselves (negotiate higher salaries), but not so much for long term outcomes for their companies.

Those of you who are research minded are probably thinking, “That all sounds great, but how did they get enough CEO narcissism data to do the research?” The answer is handwriting analysis. Yes, you read that correctly.

Physical attributions of personality have a long and poor track record in employee selection. From phrenology to handwriting analysis, these types of inferences have not been shown to be valid or reliable. This study uses the size of a signature, as found in documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, as an indicator of narcissism. And, while probably not as accurate as other measures, it turns out that signature size is a pretty reasonable proxy of the trait. You can also see how it would be less easily faked than a personality inventory.

The bigger question is how HR can have more influence in the hiring of high stakes positions. While asking for executive applicants’ signatures may not be the best way to go, informing hiring committees about predictors of performance may at least get them thinking in the right direction rather than being swayed by red herrings.

What do you do to influence hiring decisions for executives?



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