Would you suggest using external benchmarking to guide your internal engagement targets?

I am interesting in hearing about how others decide on their internal engagement targets? Do you look at external benchmarking to guide you?

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Hi Jo,

This is something I’ve done in the past and again the key is using external benchmarks as a sense check combined with some of the psychology of motivation.

First, I don’t advocate setting targets on Engagement at all. Why? Because Engagement is an outcome that is influenced by many things and some of those things are external or out of the control of most anyone who might be set such a target. Setting people targets on things out of their control violates a key principle for motivation which is an internal locus of control.

So, I would focus on, if needing targets, to set them on the things someone is aiming to change or focus on as the drivers of Engagement. We suggest people focus on one thing that the data suggests is impacting Engagement (or whatever outcome is important in the situation). These are picked as things we have greater control over.

From there we can use external benchmarks and internal benchmarks to tell us what the true upper bound of possibility for a score on that question is. If the highest scores other companies achieve (i.e top quartile benchmark performance) on a question is 80% , then setting targets outside that range is unreasonable and very likely demotivating - via creating a sense of helplessness in reaching it.

A good strategy is to shoot for reducing a % of the gap to a realistic goal (such as a top quartile internal or external benchmark). Groups above that score might even be allowed to have a drop in score and still hit their target - and they shouldn’t be punished for going from 100% to 95% for example because high scores are often likely to go backwards due to the laws of statistics.


Thanks so much @jason - I am particularly curious about the above comment - how do you then strike the balance in your debrief after a survey of the things that are in our peoples sphere of control and things that aren’t? I think it’s good that people know that there are things that they can’t control so the pressure is alleviated a little bit, but you don’t want it going too far the other way either - for example we have had people write off results if a survey was done after a “restructure” attributing all the results to the fact that had happened. Do you have any examples??

Thanks again!!


Hi Jo,

I hear your concerns and totally understand the concern that people might use the notion that they cannot control all things Engagement as a reason to avoid any responsibility. This is known in the trade as ‘wiggle room’.

My answer to this is that there is a difference between asking someone to be accountable for an outcome at a high level like Engagement and being accountable for trying to improve things we detect as being causes of Engagement that they have more control over.

I’ll give you a clear example from a customer satisfaction realm as they are often easier to work with. Imagine someone who is waiting tables and you ask them to be accountable for overall customer satisfaction. They then improve their table service but overall customer satisfaction goes down. You then find out the food was actually getting worse as their service improved. This is going to create a sense of helplessness if you persist.

It is better to assess the relationship between service and overall satisfaction and then ask table staff to be accountable for the standard and satisfaction with that aspect of customer experience and if all else is equal we expect overall satisfaction to go up.

In that sense I recommend people are better off having some accountability on the antecedents or drivers of Engagement or any other outcome versus the outcome itself which is often affected by other things too.

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