It’s time to rethink the employees engagement issue. The change we need to make is to redefine engagement beyond an annual HR measure to a continuous, holistic part of an entire business strategy. Here a couple things we all know:

So if the employee engagement survey is dying, but employee engagement is critical to performance, what should we measure?

The issue with employee engagement surveys

The biggest issue with employee engagement surveys is that much of the data is not acted on, which ends up doing more harm than good. As an employee, it’s disheartening to think that your feedback amounts to little more than a report that gets passed up to leadership.

For leaders, while the survey information is interesting, the data you get does very little to actually help you manage core business objectives like revenue, expenses, market share, customer churn, etc. For example, let’s say you get a score of 10 from an employee net promoter score (eNPS) survey. It’s hard to say if increasing it by another 10 points will help increase revenues, or retention, or market share by a correlated amount. There are ways to do this, but they aren’t easy.

So ultimately, there is no clear link between employee engagement and the thing that most people in an organization are held accountable to: business results.

An alternative way to measure employee engagement

One way engagement shows up is as motivation to do the right thing for the company and team. We can see engagement through the input, feedback, and ideas that employees have to improve work. People who care about their colleagues and workplace are motivated to correct issues and work on ways to get better results.

A company’s best customers are not just those who are loyal, but provide important input, feedback and ideas for improvement. A company’s best employees are not just those who stick around and do their jobs, but contribute above and beyond their job descriptions. They have a desire to co-create success.

Input, feedback and ideas are something you can measure and are the ultimate form of engagement.

Engagement as cost-cutting and operational efficiency

A leading global resources company selected a collaboration platform to uncover employees’ ideas for cutting costs. More importantly, with falling resource prices, they didn’t want this to become a one-time effort. They wanted it to become embedded in their culture so that all employees were always looking for ways to create efficiencies and improve productivity.

The customer used the platform to collect input and focus collaboration on: productivity, cost cutting, health and safety and improving workplace culture. When they first launched, employees naturally gravitated towards workplace culture with it representing over 50% of the input received. Overall engagement was great, but management wanted to see if they could focus the engagement on pressing business issues. Over the course of the next six months, leadership stepped up efforts to make sure that everyone understood where help was needed. The result was that they not only had great engagement (over 1,700 ideas, 2,000 comments and 32,000 votes), but the engagement was aligned to the most pressing business needs with over 95% of the trending ideas focused on cost cutting, productivity and health and safety.

Actionable ideas

Viewing input as a proxy to engagement gets the measurement much closer to business results. Getting something close to business results increases the motivation for leadership to take action. It moves engagement from the realm of something general and makes it specific to the most important business priorities.

Leaders communicate the focus for working together and through tools and processes, empower employees to address obstacles that prevent success, or opportunities that improve or accelerate outcomes. Now engagement on these topics become a good leading indicator for results. For the global resources company, without a healthy pipeline of ideas and projects to address productivity and cost cutting, it’s clear that long term they may struggle to hit the cost cutting goals.

Building Problem Solving Muscle

At the heart of a great collaboration platform is the ability to have leaders and employees at all levels of the organization work together to solve problems. An organization needs the right tools and processes to route input to the right decision makers and individuals or teams that can bring ideas to life. Solving problems like finding ways to become more efficient or cut costs translate to organizational skills that can be used to solve other problems, like culture and engagement.

In addition to engagement surveys or pulses, use feedback loops to measure engagement

Engagement surveys do provide useful information, but they fall short on taking action. Partly because the information isn’t immediately actionable.

A feedback loop focused on employee input aligned to business priorities measures the output of engagement rather than trying to measure engagement directly. It’s highly actionable and it also directly increases engagement by allowing employees to co-create solutions to issues that matter to them and the organization they work for. The metrics you get out of a feedback loop like this also align well as leading indicators to core business objectives.

The amount of input an individual provides is a good predictor of turnover. Employees who aren’t engaged in providing input aren’t as invested in the long term success of the organizations they’re working for.