Managing and leading can be difficult. It’s well documented that as you move up a hierarchy the harder it is to get honest feedback on your ideas and on the organization’s health. In these positions quantitative measures of engagement can be a helpful tool for understanding the health of your organization and for asking the right questions of your employees.

“Engagement” sounds like squishy business jargon. But there are many tested measurement tools and there is a well documented relationship between high engagement levels among employees and superior organizational performance. Some instruments, like the Utrecht Work Engagement Scale, are used in academia and others are developed by management consultants (Gallup, Towers Perrin, Blessing White, Hewitt, and Kenexa all have their own flavors). Gallup’s Q12 instrument is one of the best known examples.

Generally these instruments consist of a simple survey. The results are tallied and each employee is graded as (generally) “Engaged” “Neutral” or “Actively disengaged.” A survey is helpful if you want to perform a check-up of the whole organization or a large department. But there’s a lot of value in simply using the questions as a framework while communicating and thinking about employees. They can be a teacher, helping you understand what is important to your employees and to keeping them engaged.

See for yourself, read through the list of questions that make up the Gallup Q12 . As you read, think about the people you manage and how they would answer each statement.

The Q12 statements follow.  For each statement there are six response options (from 5=strongly agree to 1=strongly disagree; the sixth response option — don’t know/does not apply — is unscored).

  1. I know what is expected of me at work.
  2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
  3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
  4. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
  5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.
  6. There is someone at work who encourages my development.
  7. At work, my opinions seem to count.
  8. The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.
  9. My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.
  10. I have a best friend at work.
  11. In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.
  12. This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

These are straight forward. If you know your people at all, you probably know how they would answer them. And if they wouldn’t rate themselves as highly engaged, it’s pretty clear how you could fix this. If, on average, your people rate “Agree” to “Strongly Agree” then you have engaged people, you’re doing a great job.

Generally I wouldn’t advocate “teaching to the test” because of the temptation to game the measurement. But in this case Gallup seems to have done a good job covering most of the basic needs of employees in these simple questions. The only exception I see is pay equity. The measurement assumes that employees feel they are being paid fairly.

As you manage and lead in your organization the Q12 is a useful tool to help to keep the feedback flowing. Use it to check your assumptions about employee engagement and make sure you haven’t been blinded by your position.

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