Proving Impact of Employee Engagement, Part 1
Michael Lee Stallard tackles the thorny issue of finding proof of the economic impact of employee engagement. Given the complexity of the full answer, I thought I would add my two cents.
Stallard is correct that social science can’t prove this with a certainty. We can’t. In fact, social science can’t “prove” much of anything. If this sounds shocking, I understand. I was shocked too. The only thing social science can prove is that something is false. We cannot find proof that something is true.
Here’s the bigger surprise: This limitation is not exclusive to social science. It is something all scientists must wrestle, be they psychologists, business scholars, chemists or physicists. This is a fundamental feature of science and the search for truth. We can never find proof that a statement is true, but we can find evidence that is alternatives are false. This is the way science works. There is a pretty good reason for this too. It has to do with confirmation search bias and its pitfalls… I won’t subject you to the details unless you ask.
The correct way of stating what we know about engagement is to say that we have evidence that it is false to say that engagement does not impact performance. Here’s the thing: This nuanced understanding of evidence and proof seems to only make sense to other scientists. For everyone else, this sounds like “I can’t prove it.” For far too many this becomes equivalent to “I have no evidence of this.” These are NOT the same, but they can be readily confused by those without the training to avoid such semantic confounds (did I just coin a phrase?).
So here’s my advice. Around scientists, it’s ok to say “we can’t prove it.” They are more likely to know what you mean (though there is no guarantee that they do. Perhaps it is best to say that they are less likely to misunderstand). For everyone else, speak like a non-scientist. We have substantial evidence for this relationship and this is really what we are being asked anyway. Is this dishonest? I don’t think so. We are dealing with intent, rather than form. Do you disagree? Let me know.