Does your company get a good return on all the time and money it invests in leadership development? Despite the millions spent on developing leaders, many employees – maybe most – are disengaged from their work and not giving it their best shot. That’s often the result of poor leadership.
The real problem is a corporate mindset fixated on short-term profits. “This means that managers don’t use the leadership skills and strategies they have learnt on development programmes because they think their precious time should be invested in maximising weekly or quarterly profits,” says Professor Marko Kesti, Adjunct Professor, HRM-Performance at the University of Lapland.
But trying to maximise short-term profits, while ignoring issues influencing the quality of employees’ working lives will eventually damage productivity and so reduce long-term profits, he warns.
Measuring ROI in leadership improvements
The quality of employees’ working lives has a direct impact on their wellbeing. Leadership behaviour influences both. But it’s difficult for leaders to measure employee wellbeing with any kind of accuracy. Many also struggle to understand the connection between employee wellbeing and work performance. They don’t appreciate, for example, that requiring employees to work longer hours will leave them feeling tired and stressed out and end up reducing their effective working time.
Professor Kesti and VibeCatch have developed a reliable new method of measuring employee productivity and the quality of their working lives. The Quality of Work Life (QWL) Index enables companies to show whether or not investment in leadership development or other workplace improvements actually pays off.
The QWL approach
What makes the QWL Index different from other employee satisfaction surveys?
Academic research has highlighted two fundamental problems with traditional employee satisfaction surveys. One is that these satisfaction surveys produce average satisfaction scores, instead of giving different weightings to the various factors affecting employee engagement and wellbeing. As a result, the data these surveys produce is just plain wrong.
The other problem is that most employee satisfaction surveys don’t tell you what you need to do to improve employee engagement and wellbeing, and so increase their productivity.
The QWL approach avoids both problems. First, it builds on a sophisticated understanding of how different factors – leadership, for example, or the physical working environment - affect the quality of work life. Crucially, the QWL method also highlights development needs by bringing up the undercurrents that most other employee satisfaction surveys fail to detect. This information can then be used to guide workplace improvements.
Asking the right questions
The QWL survey is also much shorter than most employee satisfaction surveys. Research has shown that asking too many questions is a waste of time, because after answering 20 or so, most people lose concentration and start selecting responses automatically. So, the QWL survey consists of just 15 questions that are deliberately quite general. “If you ask questions that are too precise, you miss some very important development needs that require different solutions in different parts of the organisation,” explains Professor Kesti.
Asking, for example, how well managers take care of their workers is a very general question that can reveal how an individual team leader deals with particular issues. The same question might bring out different issues and development needs in other teams.
So, if an employee satisfaction survey shows that leaders in one part of the organisation need to develop their listening skills or emotional intelligence, for example, they might be sent on a training programme to develop these capabilities. The next QWL employee satisfaction survey will then reveal whether or not they are using what they have learnt in the workplace. If they are, that will soon show up in improved company performance metrics.
The QWL, in short, will show whether or not your company’s investment in leadership development is paying off. Isn’t it time to start using this cutting edge survey tool?