To Drive Business Results, Measure Employees' Strategic Relationships

Just this morning, IBM is denying reports that it could cut more than a quarter of its workforce - 110,000 people - this year. The layoffs would be far fewer, "only a few thousands," IBM says. Forbes' Robert Cringely, who wrote the initial report on Project Chrome, "the biggest reorganization in IBM history," explains here why he thinks IBM is cutting hairs and is indeed laying off people without saying so. Here's some advice from Influencer J.T. O'Donnell if you're an IBM employee. Peter E. Greulich is a quarter-century veteran of the company. He writes a harrowing tale of what an IBM "resource action day" - i.e. mass layoffs - looks like.

I deliver dozens of keynotes globally on the strategic value of business relationships, among other topics. I pay attention to lists of "Most Admired Companies," "Best Places to Work," and such, because I'm interested in how (or if) they use strategic relationships as a quantifiable metric. I submit that those companies not regularly and rigorously assessing the health of their employees' strategic relationships are missing a crucial lens and framework for understanding and improving organizational health.

Surveys are the usual tool for assessing employee satisfaction and engagement. But too often, the survey tool is not adequately constructed to measure the depth and breadth of strategic relationships. Case in point: a respected and fast-growing provider of surveys that recently came to my attention. Their methodology is designed to evaluate a company's likelihood to succeed in the long term. It scores a company's organizational health, measured in terms of direction, execution and connection, and employee engagement, measured in terms of an individual's satisfaction with work assignment, manager and pay and benefits.

When I saw "connection" explicitly stated as part of organizational health, I was intrigued. Was this survey provider aligned with my fundamental belief that for the greatest return on impact, companies must leverage the business asset that is their employees' connections within and external to the organization?
Sadly, I found a "feel good" interpretation of connection, not a deep understanding of strategic relationships as a company's greatest off-balance-sheet asset.

Typical "Connection" responses in an example using their standard survey were...
  • I feel genuinely appreciated
  • My job makes me feel like I am part of something meaningful
  • I am confident about my future here
Are these sentiments important? Absolutely. But they're falling short on measuring connections as a strategic asset. Where are the questions that could produce responses like the following?
  • I have relationships inside and outside the organization that allow me to get things done.
  • I have a formal or informal community where I can identify, capture, document, internalize, apply and analyze best practices.
  • My strategic relationships inside the organization are helping me grow personally and professionally.

This survey represents a valid concept--measuring organizational health and employee engagement--misdirected. The results are presented in clear slide decks and reports that show the individual company surveyed benchmarked against industry norms, at a level granular enough to be truly useful. The results are analyzed by demographic slices that could aid in talent recruitment and management: tenure, salary bracket, department, job grade.

It frustrates me to see the conversation come so near the mark but miss the point. These "feel good" employee survey companies are not connecting "connection" to any outcome other than employee satisfaction and productivity. They are operating from a flawed assumption that a "connection" is merely a synonym for affiliation with the company. Allow me to point out that real emotional connection occurs between individuals, not an individual and a brand, company, or institution. The other flawed assumption is the equation of satisfaction with engagement. I could be satisfied with my job, clock in every day happily enough, and still not be really engaged. If you don't make me see how my work contributes to my division, department, or unit meeting its goals, and how that connects to overall attainment of growth and profitability, you will not have my engagement, only my goodwill, at best.

The answer is not rocket science, but it can be behavioral science. Using data collection, analysis, and action plans to impact organizational health is absolutely valid. But please, let's find a way to measure what really matters: depth and breadth of strategic relationships, internal and external to the organization.

Nour Takeaways
  1. Workplace surveys are too often constructed in such a way they miss any measurement of employees' strategic relationships.
  2. Surveys should produce measures of the strategic relationships as a business asset that helps employees get things done, share and learn relevant best practices, and grow personally and professionally.
  3. "Connection" must mean more than job satisfaction or affiliation with an employer brand. It must be held to the standard of strategic relationships that impact business results.


David Nour is an enterprise growth strategist and the thought leader on Relationship Economics® --the quantifiable value of business relationships. In a global economy that is becoming increasingly disconnected, The Nour Group, Inc. has attracted consulting engagements from over 100 marquee organizations in driving unprecedented growth through unique return on their strategic relationships. Nour has pioneered the phenomenon that relationships are the greatest off balance sheet asset any organizations possesses, large and small, public and private. He is the author of several books including the best selling Relationship Economics-- Revised (Wiley), ConnectAbility (McGraw-Hill), The Entrepreneur's Guide to Raising Capital (Praeger) and Return on Impact--Leadership Strategies for the age of Connected Relationships (ASAE). Learn more at