160,000 Employee Professional Services Firm Decides Engagement is a “Racket”

racket small

I’m pretty good at keeping my finger on the pulse of what is going on in the engagement space but this little ditty almost slipped by me. And the fact that I’ve only seen one update referencing this (and on Google + no less – which may explain why no one is talking about it…) tells me I’m either not the only one who missed it …or… there is a huge number of companies, consultants and people that simply don’t want you to know about it.

On December 1, 2015 the website Financial Review (http://afr.com) ran an article with this headline: KPMG Dumps “Abused” Staff Surveys. I was able to access it via a link on my phone but when I went back to the article on my laptop it was behind a “free 30 day trial” paywall – they wanted my credit card info now and I’d have to cancel later to avoid the charge. Homey don’t play that. But I was able to copy and paste the content from my phone so I wouldn’t have to rely on memory. If you want to try to access it here’s the link – your mileage may vary: http://www.afr.com/leadership/careers/jobs/kpmg-dumps-abused-staff-surveys-20151110-gkvctt#


That is their headline not mine.

According to the article the lead partner of KPMG’s global HR transformation center of excellence, Robert Bolton, said KPMG will stop using employee engagement surveys and start using “a more robust diagnostic that focuses on ‘something truly worth measuring’”.

And the heresy continues …

“There is a massive industry behind the belief that if a company drives up engagement productivity will increase.

In reality, engagement is an ill-defined term. And measuring it once or twice a year with some static survey is not very scientific, no matter how much it’s dressed up to appear so,” Bolton said.

Mic Drop

The article states, but doesn’t link to any studies, research or data, that

“hard evidence is mounting that contrary to popular belief, engagement doesn’t drive performance. In fact, the inverse is true. Performance drives engagement.”

Ah… the old “which came first” the chicken or the chicken nuggets debate. Not the first time this question has been posed. This article from USC backs up the performance=engagement point of view. And this isn’t new. The validity of the engagement=performance was questioned 5 years ago in a PDF from Talent Management Magazine from 2010:

Since the drivers of employee engagement are not identical to the drivers of business results, attempting to maximize employee engagement can actually take an organization in the wrong direction. [emphasis mine]


If KMPG is right – and that annual surveys on engagement have no value what does that say about pulse surveys? Does doing something irrelevant more often make it relevant?

Curiouser and curiouser.

Who knows where this is going but I’m going to continue to follow KMPG to see if focusing on performance will ultimately drive engagement (or if they even care or bother to measure it in the future.)

What say you – time to double down on the beliefs of the past or do you think there is an ember of truth here that needs to be fanned into a flame?

I’m in the latter camp. I believe engagement is a context within which you conduct business not a program or an activity.

Employee Engagement is an business environment.



7 thoughts on “160,000 Employee Professional Services Firm Decides Engagement is a “Racket”

  1. How are the new “Engagement” surveys different than the old, “please fill these out and turn them in to your manager” ones? Is it lipstick on a pig geared to a new generation of worker?


    • That is the important question isn’t it? If the survey as you say is simply a redressing of the old stuff than nothing new here – just PR to drive revenue. Not being privy to the tool I don’t know specifics but my reading is that the new “diagnostic tool” will focus more on the individual “contract” about work and between individuals and not so much about “how do you feel” – more along the lines of “what will you do” – probably a variation of management by objectives possibly?

      Either way the interesting thing to me was going public on the causal direction of engagement (which many have believed all along.) That was what I thought was most interesting. The tool not so much.


  2. I don’t disagree with KPMG’s thought process here. There is a pretty big industry out there aimed at selling HR pro’s a “metric” that will help them make employees happier and more productive. Only problem is that engagement isn’t a scientific metric, there are tons of definitions.

    But, I think there is value in surveying employees and reviewing the data with leaders and employees. When I do that I typically call out that “engagement” is up for definition and try to focus on the other numbers I see: levels of satisfaction/dissatisfaction with managers, work environment, job, etc; And of course the comments are always a riot.

    Looking forward to seeing more information on this in the future from you Paul.


    • I get that seeing numbers move (especially in a positive way) is a nice thing and fun to watch. I think KPMG’s point is that is really irrelevant. The inference IMO is that if you focus on the activities that drive company results/outcomes – the engagement will go up. And if you think about it – working in a transparent way with employees to have them identify ways to impact company performance and working WITH them to design the process to achieve that goal will increase company performance and ipso facto – engagement.

      Some of this is a bit of “reshaping” the conversation using the same ingredients. We know that autonomy, meaning, progress all drive engagement. I think we’re seeing those elements now packaged into a method for creating job functions, to-do, work plans that are focused on specific company performance metrics.


  3. Pingback: All Vital Signs Are Good but the Patient is Dying – The Employee Engagement Silver Bullet? | What is Paul Thinking?

  4. Pingback: All Vital Signs Are Good but the Patient is Dying – The Employee Engagement Silver Bullet?

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