Good Leadership Requires Good Data | Gagen MacDonald

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Good Leadership Requires Good Data

Jan 08, 2015
Most successful leaders can do a fine job of mastering “hard” data on financials, production, and the variance between goals and actual performance. But many leaders do a less commendable job analyzing the “soft” data that measure attitudes, perceptions, and opinions within the organization. Inspired leadership requires a clear-eyed view of employee attitudes and perceptions, a dispassionate assessment of intangible outcomes from new communication initiatives, and above all, an accurate appraisal of the intrinsic motivation that induces employees to give their all—and their best—from the first moment of their workday to the last.One of the most important “soft” assets in an organization is the intrinsic motivation of its employees. Employee motivation is the goldmine that continuously replenishes the treasury where good leadership keeps all its accounts. Intrinsic motivation can’t be purchased by even the largest paycheck, nor is it unattainable for those paid the least. There is no single fail proof way to assure its development, just as there is no ironclad rule about the conditions where it cannot flourish. It’s neither selfish nor selfless, yet it leads employees to work tirelessly for the good of the company and society while they work (simultaneously) to advance their own career. Intrinsic motivation has scores of drivers that are all fostered by the executive decisions of inspired leaders: These inspirational executives build organizations that enhance their employees’ accountability, their autonomy in decision making, their feeling of responsibility for the quality of the organization’s output, their intellectual challenge, and—in the best sense of the term—their feeling of skilled mastery.Published research on the drivers and outcomes of these “soft” variables is compelling and consistent. Pilot programs that enhance learning can have a surprisingly strong impact on motivation, quality, productivity, and even profit, as my recent paper in California Management Review shows. Moreover, as Forbes’s article on a 7-year study from the Workplace Research Foundation describes, good communication and solid intrinsic motivation lead to subsequently higher stock return. The Forbes article and a substantial body of published research show that these “soft” variables are indispensible for an organization’s financial viability.But how should we measure intangibles like great communication, intrinsic motivation, and a feeling of autonomy? Surely, Gallup’s 12-question surveys is a good beginning; but ask yourself: Is it the employer’s responsibility (legally or otherwise) to be concerned about whether employees have a “best friend” at work, as Gallup’s Q-12 survey asks? And even if it was appropriate, do we imagine that having a best friend at work should be elevated to the status of a driver that contributes to genuine intrinsic motivation? I don’t know about your notions of leadership, but my best friend lives with me at home, and we both encourage each other to put every ounce of our workday’s effort into building quality, profitability, accountability, innovation, and genuine progress—not looking for another best friend among our colleagues at work. So the tools you choose to measure these “soft” data really do matter. Use the right assessment tool and you can identify the drivers and outcomes accurately; use the wrong tools and you’ll get nothing other than a confirmation of the preconceived ideas that you started with.Over the course of recent years my company EMPA—often working in conjunction with Gagen MacDonald—has developed leadership assessments for numerous fortune 500 companies—Xerox, HP, and Accenture among them. EMPA and GMD have also delivered surveys and consultation services that have allowed scores of companies to evaluate and improve communication for more than 3 million employees. And the outcome of all those engagements is unambiguous: Good leadership requires access to valid and reliable assessments of the “soft” variables that keep an organization running well. After all, the truly successful executives are the ones who are good at MANAGING their companies and LEADING their people. The less successful executives? They are the semiskilled backyard mechanics of the executive world who try to MANAGE their people and LEAD their business…a futile effort if there ever was one. That’s why the best leaders are the ones who have one or two skilled professionals that they can call on within their organization to develop the assessments necessary to collect and analyze valid, reliable, and useful “soft” data to compliment the “hard” numbers offered by the CFO and COO. If you want to be an inspirational and effective leader, one who masters both “hard” data and “soft” data with equal skill, be sure that you have someone on staff who knows how to develop really effective surveys, assessments, screening tools, and program evaluations.If you already employ someone with comprehensive survey skills, congratulations; you already have one of the essential tools of great leadership. However, if you don’t have someone on-staff with high-level survey skills you might want to consider sponsoring an enrollment in either a master’s program or a certificate program. Both The University of Michigan and the University of Illinois at Chicago (among many others) offer a master’s degree in survey methodology. Alternatively, if you are interested in building skills for your corporation following a shorter and more direct path, you might consider sending one or two employees to The University of Michigan’s certificate program that will introduce them to the nuts and bolts of survey methodology. It’s an 8-week distance-learning class that provides synchronous or asynchronous participation, so that classes don’t interfere with employees’ work schedules. If “soft” skills are a problem area in your organization, skill enhancement is bound to be a sensible investment: Companies that have their own team of in-house experts on survey methodology can streamline survey efforts, eliminate redundancy, improve consistency, and spend less on outside consultants. Want to be an enlightened leader? Make sure you have valid and reliable “soft” data to compliment the “hard” data you already handle well. Good leadership REQUIRES good data.
About the Author: Dr. Morrel-Samuels is the CEO of EMPA ( —a business partner of Gagen MacDonald. He teaches survey design and research methods at the University of Michigan, has testified to congress on the linkages between employee survey results and objectively measured outcomes, and has patented several leadership assessments. Information about his new on-line certificate course on survey design at the University of Michigan can be found at
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