Author Archives: Joshua Holt

To Increase Employee Engagement, Focusing on the Right Things may not Mean Focusing on the Worst Things

Date: November 9, 2012 | Joshua Holt | News | Comments Off on To Increase Employee Engagement, Focusing on the Right Things may not Mean Focusing on the Worst Things

We’ve posted a lot on Employee Engagement on this blog.  That’s because it’s a very pertinent topic to each and every business – large or small, profit or non-profit, established or a new start-up.  Keeping a pulse of your employees not only means keeping them when times are hard, but also can pay big dividends to your bottom line because your productivity benefits.

It becomes difficult, however, when assessing which areas to focus on when attempting to increase employee engagement.  Engagement is a complex mechanism to measure, entailing dozens of individual components.  And tackling every issue can quickly turn into an insurmountable task.

Given this, it is essential to identify those areas that will have the greatest impact on engagement.  And this does not necessarily equate to focusing on those areas that are performing the lowest.

For instance, most employees, regardless of company and industry, indicate that they believe their pay and benefits packages are not as competitive as they want them to be – in turn, most have negative perceptions about their compensation.  It’s not uncommon to see 50% of your employee base give low marks on these related items within the survey.  But does this mean that employees are disengaged with the company because of this?

We have found, however, that pay and benefits are not strong drivers of engagement despite the fact that they are often the lowest performing area of the collective measure of engagement.  With this in mind, you may be wasting valuable resources trying to fix only this issue in your attempts to increase your employees’ engagement with the company.

And the right items to focus on aren’t always easy to identify.  Here at IQS Research, we use a series of advanced data analytic techniques that identify those items that will have the greatest impact on your employees’ engagement with the company.  Using this method allows employers to sift through the stubble and pinpoint those areas that need to be addressed immediately in order to avoid high turnover and damage to your bottom line.  Drivers of engagement are not based upon performance, but rather their relationship to the employee experience.

Of course, we would not be very good and responsible researchers if we told you to ignore those areas within employee opinion that are performing very poorly.  They certainly need to be addressed.  Rather, prioritizing the issues is what is key here, and what the advanced analytics allows us to do.  Just like goal setting, prioritization is of utmost importance when trying to tackle real and perplexing issues.

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High Engagement Means Keeping those Highly Skilled Employees

Date: September 11, 2012 | Joshua Holt | News | Comments Off on High Engagement Means Keeping those Highly Skilled Employees

There has been a lot of talk lately about the economy, and signs seem to indicate that we are creeping out of the holds of the terrible recession we have experienced.  Job growth is on the rise (albeit slowly), and as opportunities in the job market expand employers should take note of their relationship with their employees.

Over the past several years, those who are employed tend to stay at their current positions because the job market has been so closed.  But what happens when that job market expands again?

Many companies were left suffering after the recession of 2000 ended, when employee turnover rates became quite high as fresh openings in the job market emerged, according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  I’m sure many in HR are aware of the risks that may await the business world as they may be scrambling to find new people to fill a sudden onslaught of open positions.

But this does not have to be the case.  In a down economy, employees may “suffer” through a job, even those who are considered to be your high performers, because they feel secure in that job.  It’s certainly better than being unemployed.  However, staying on the job does not mean that they are  “buying in” to the culture and vision of your company.  If they are not on board with this culture, it becomes easier for them to leave once an opportunity emerges.

Thus, it is important, now more than ever, that companies stay in tune with their employee base.  According to our employee engagement research, engagement is not just a measure of satisfaction.  In fact, the two are very different.  An employee can be satisfied with his or her job simply because he or she has a job.  That’s setting the bar a quite low.  Rather, an engaged employee is one that is loyal to the company.  He or she understands the company culture and goes to work everyday to fulfill that culture; which makes it less likely that he or she will leave your company.

There is a difference between those who go to work by choice and those who go to work because he or she feels like they must.  These are two completely different perspectives on what it is to have a job.  Having an engaged workforce is better for production and internal relations.

Below are a few tips on how to understand and increase engagement of employees.

1. Measure it.  Guessing at the level of engagement is not enough, nor are your own thoughts about it even if you believe you are truly in-tune with your employees.  Because employees are not likely to tell you themselves that they are unhappy, it is necessary to provide a platform where he or she can voice an opinion.  IQS offers engagement surveys that provide a level of anonymity that employees can feel comfortable with to provide unbiased and unabridged responses about the atmosphere of the workplace.

2. Understand satisfaction is only a component of engagement – they are not the same measurement.  In our own survey constructs, satisfaction is one question of many.  While satisfaction is indeed a predictor of engagement, it certainly is not the whole picture and understanding engagement at a broader level can help to uncover other potential hazards with employee relations.

3. Communicate with your employees.  Listen to their concerns and communicate with them that you have heard them.  Too often employers do not let their employees know that they are in fact working to fix the concerns that have been uncovered.  They provided you with feedback; you need to reciprocate.

4. Put into place action plans to improve engagement.  Once you have an understanding of these concerns, don’t just sit on the results.  Be sure to provide an appropriate action plan that addresses the concerns and suggestions of your employees.  Research is designed to provide insights, and insights are meant to be acted upon.

In a time when unemployment is high and the future of the market is shaky at best, it is ever more important to maintain an engaged workforce.  The simple fact in all of this is that the economy will not be slow forever – the job market will boom again.  Understanding employee engagement can benefit those companies that make an effort to ensure that once the economy recovers, they will not be “out on the streets” themselves looking for a whole new batch of employees.


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Becoming College Ready – Small Steps Help

Date: September 4, 2012 | Joshua Holt | News | Comments Off on Becoming College Ready – Small Steps Help

Having recently blogged about college readiness and setting manageable expectations to accomplish long-term goals, we thought a nice “culmination” to this discussion to bridge the two concepts would be to talk about some checklists that the Department of Education has released that makes the path to going to college more digestible.

Checklists are quite a handy tool when we have set our minds on something in the future.  Like our last post mentioned, long-term goals are more likely to be achieved if we adopt a mentality that allows us to measure our progress and thus internalize the importance of reaching that goal.

So then, for the future college student (and parents of future college students), using this same logic makes sense if the end goal is college admittance (and subsequently college graduation).

What makes these checklists particularly useful is that they are designed for specific grades, and are both academic and financial in nature.  Similar to our own research on the matter, the DOE stresses the importance of planning for this transition early, and have therefore created these checklists to help ease the burden for parents and students who may not know where to start, which can be found on their website

Here are some of the highlights of each checklist:

1. The elementary checklist stresses the importance of reading and developing an excitement and sense of adventure for learning.  Parents should encourage this passion by reading to their children and checking over their homework.  Also, parents should begin the process of saving for their children’s college funds.  It’s never to early to start.

2. The middle school checklist encourages students to begin thinking about why college is important and even promotes the action of students saving for college themselves.  Academic behaviors are important as well, such as developing study habits and becoming involved in after-school activities.

3. The high school checklists (specific for freshman, sophomores, juniors, and seniors) are more practical and to-the-point, such as learning about FAFSA and how to apply for financial aid and focusing on academic performance to ensure admittance.  It also encourages students to talk to counselors about their available options when considering colleges, something our own research found students are reluctant to do despite its importance.  The application process is also discussed.

There is even a checklist for adults returning to college or going for the first time.

What these plans provide is a way students and parents can work towards the long-term goal of college.  Going to college is a big step in one’s life, and and confusing one.  Mental preparation helps to create realistic expectations for students and parents, as well as helps students along the way in their academic pursuits (as they can internalize the relevance of good grades and extracurricular activities to their ultimate end goal).


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Keeping Those Goals Top-of-Mind

Date: August 23, 2012 | Joshua Holt | News | Comments Off on Keeping Those Goals Top-of-Mind

We recently released a special report that discussed the lack of preparedness many students face as they enter the collegiate experience.  It’s been getting some nice attention at sites like US News & World Report, Education Week, and Pearson Education.  A news affiliate of NPR also ran a story on the subject.

Surely, the topic of college readiness is a very pertinent one in today’s discourse, as enrollment rates are continuing to increase, yet drop outs are also on the rise.  This relates to a matter that we all face, whether we are enrolling in college or not – and that is goal setting.

A recent study that will appear in the Journal of Organizational Behavior makes a claim that sheds some light on why many of us fail to accomplish the things we set out to do.  This can relate to a student who has to drop out of college his or her first year because they cannot handle the pressures of the college atmosphere.  Or it can relate to the common businessperson as he or she attempts to develop and accomplish goals for the future.  The researchers argue that “people in contemporary economies seem to know that they should ‘think long term,’ when in fact they base their choices and behaviors primarily…on short-term considerations.”

The meaning of this statement is simple enough to grasp – we are hypocritical when it comes to our goal setting.  We all realize that long term planning is necessary, but we don’t take the necessary steps to get there.  Instead, we perform as though we are accomplishing many small tasks for the near term future.  While many correctly make the claim that goals are best handled when we develop “action steps” to accomplish them, we nevertheless lose our way in many cases toward the ultimate end.  So maybe this is not so much hypocritical, but rather we just don’t have a good knowledge on how to effectively set goals.

Students don’t succeed, in short, because they are not preparing for the long haul of college education – they don’t know how to.  They take it “day by day,” and despite what many will tell you, this is certainly not an effective way to plan for the future.  In the business world, it is important to create efficient and sustainable action plans that work toward a single end.

Of course, these researchers have some good tips on how to stay motivated toward those long term goals – 8 of them to be precise.  They were developed from in-depth interviews of professionals across a wide array of fields, which the researchers then condensed into a common pattern of eight key sources that benefit the psychological underpinnings of how we go about pursing our goals:

1. Allegory – it benefits us to compare our own goals to great accomplishments of  the past, like landing on the moon or being the first to fly across the Atlantic.  This provides some grandeur and takes the “ordinary” out of it.

2. Futurity – think of the future benefits accomplishing the goal will have.  How will it impact your own grandchildren one day?

3. Self – Set the goal in such a way that invokes your own personal identity and reputation.  How will it affect you personally?

4. Singularity – Maybe this goal is unique.  Even if it is not, it helps to frame it that way so that you can have some novelty to associate with it.  Perhaps no one in the world has set out to do this.  It may not be true, but it sure does make it more exciting and helps to build that motivation.

5. Knowledge – What kind of new knowledge will be created from accomplishing this goal?  Be of the mindset that any knowledge that’s created is good.

6. The Work – Embrace the challenges of the goal.  Kind of like the mantra, “No pain, no gain,” keep the end in mind and know that the hard work put into the goal will pay dividends in the end.

7. Embeddedness – Prove your skeptics wrong.  Use any negativity that you have encountered, such as naysayers, to further motivate you.  This will help gain social legitimacy for the goal in your own eyes.  All the hard work is “not for nothing.”

8. Progress – Consistently measure the progress you have made toward your goal.  Thinking in a way that emphasizes forward movement in the direction of the long term goal can help.  This is where a series of short-term goals to help accomplish the final end can be beneficial, so long as they are relevant to the long-term goal.

As you may notice, these various motivators tend to start off “big-picture” and narrow to more specific measurements of success.  Keep this in mind as you begin your journey to long-term goal pursuits.

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“Significant” Differences May not Always Mean “Practical”

Date: August 9, 2012 | Joshua Holt | News | Comments Off on “Significant” Differences May not Always Mean “Practical”

I know we have talked a bit before about statistical significance in the data.  It’s the kind of thing that keeps us researchers in the business.  Drop a term like “statistical significance” in a party full of researchers, and watch our eyes light up with excitement.  If you thought we were nerds before, just wait!

But because we have not talked about this kind of stuff in a while, I would like to revisit the topic.  Today we take a look at what differences mean in the data.  If data is collected randomly, then differences that we may find between various groups (such as racial groups, gender, client groups, etc.) should be real.  However, aside from the magnitude of the differences, say 30 percentage points between the groups in a response to a particular question or behavior, it can become difficult to know whether or not the difference you are seeing are “real.”

You see, every sample has a “margin of error.”  You know what that is, because you see it all the time in the political polls you are bombarded with as of late.  If you don’t, read about it here.

Unless you have a census, researchers must deal with margins of error, and there are acceptable levels of error we are comfortable with, say +/- 5%.  These exist because there is a possibility that the differences we see between the groups (like the percentage of voters that will choose a particular candidate for president) occur by mere chance.  Refined sampling techniques, like the ones we use, are designed to minimize this possibility.  But again, unless we survey every possible case in a targeted population, this possibility is present.  Census targets are very costly and are trumped by the high precision of random sampling.

Let’s get a little bit more specific.

Say we see differences between males and females in how difficulty they think college will be.  A recent IQS study showed that 55% of African American male adults believe that college will be difficult for high school students.  Only 23% of females believe this.  Now, we can probably tell that this difference is real based on the magnitude in the spread (32%).  We don’t really need a statistical test to tell us this.

But let’s look at another example, one that may not be so clear.  The same study revealed that 41% of white males said that everyone should get a college degree, compared to 48% of white females.  A difference of only 7% is less clear.  Perhaps the difference is real, or perhaps it is occurring because of that possibility of chance due to sampling error that we just discussed.

To ease your anticipation as you sit on the edge of your sets, I can tell you that the difference was indeed “statistically significant.”  In other words, it was real.  There is in fact a difference in opinion between these two groups.  But is the difference  practical?  In other words, is the difference so great as to warrant different marketing campaigns directed toward men and women to raise perceptions of importance for a college education?  Are the additional costs justified?  The answer is probably no.  But sometimes the differences, while real, are too subtle to develop different strategies to address the problem(s).

Thus, there is a difference between “statistical” and “practical.”  Statistical differences are real and meaningful from a data standpoint.  They help guide researches in finding insights in the data. But if you are on the receiving end of the analysis, perhaps these differences are not always practical.  It is often the researcher’s charge to help in delineating between the two.

For more information on this topic, be sure to read our white paper on the matter.  It will give you a deeper understanding of differences that are revealed in data analysis.

Access our White Paper here.


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