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Pulse Check: The 9 Vital Questions You Need to Monitor Employee Engagement

Plus a heatmap template to help you hone in on employee hotspots

Where are your hotspots?

Read Time: 3 minutes 15 seconds

I work as an advisor to several companies.

The first question I typically ask is, “What are your biggest problems?”

Any executive earning their paycheck has an answer to this. But the one that catches many of them off guard is the follow-up:

“How do you know?”

And there are two drivers behind this question:

  • What is the evidence of that problem?

  • Can they separate big problems from small ones?

We’ve already shared playbooks on Diagnosing Problems to Root Cause and Building a Compelling Synthesis, but we haven’t spent as much time talking about the role data play in operating a high-performing team.

And today, I want to help you craft a simple system to keep an accurate pulse on your team. At a minimum, you should use this when taking on a new team, but I found it helpful to keep this system up to date at least quarterly.


  1. Nothing builds trust like consistency.

  2. Nothing disinfects like sunlight.

Plus, you reinforce what matters by asking the same questions over time. And you’ll spot (and be able to respond to) small changes that might have otherwise gone unnoticed.

Free Workshop: Confidently Lead Hard Conversations

Join 200+ leaders from our community on June 5th at 2 pm ET.

We’ll dive into the practical tactics to lead three make-or-break conversations:

  • Your underperforming employee

  • Your unresponsive boss

  • Your unhelpful peer

In just 30 minutes, we’ll provide you with an easy-to-apply framework and specific tactics for tilting the odds in your favor.

The Big Question(s)

My goal with any survey is to ask the fewest possible questions to get the highest possible signal. For my team, that means getting a read at different elevations and making sure I understand the environment (which I control) and how they see themselves in it (which they control).

I put all my questions on the same 1-5 scale (strongly disagree to strongly agree) so that they don’t have to shift frames, and I can build an easy-to-consume output (see below).

Here are my 11 questions with a brief explanation as to why I think they’re necessary.


  • I understand and am motivated by the team's mission.

  • At least 80% of my work contributes directly to that mission.

Logic: People need to feel connected to something bigger and that their work matters. Separating these two will help you prioritize communicating more vs. rethinking the work.


  • I know what is expected of me at work.

  • I have the tools, access, and support to meet my goals excellently.

Logic: Everyone wants to win. Clear expectations show them how. If you’re cutting corners here, you’ll create a lot of headaches down the road.


  • I am energized by the important work I'm doing.

  • In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.

  • In the last seven days, I have received constructive feedback to improve.

Logic: I’m looking for both intrinsic and external motivators. And positive and constructive feedback is the signal that will keep them on the path.

Growth & Development

  • I am clear and excited about how I can best develop.

  • I have consistent opportunities at work to learn and develop.

Logic: I’m biased towards small teams of high performers. And high-performers are insatiable in their desire to grow into more impact. When this starts to decline, I’m quick to act.


  • I feel cared for by my supervisor and colleagues.

  • I see consistent commitment from my colleagues to doing excellent work.

Logic: “What you do is who you are.” Unfortunately, I cannot be everywhere to see every action. When people no longer feel cared for or supported, I don’t have an engagement problem. I have a culture issue.

Dealing with Hotspots

Not that you’ve surfaced the problems, you need to address them.

The only thing worse than not knowing the issues is knowing them and not dealing with them.

To figure out where I put my attention, I built a simple heatmap.

It helps me immediately look at my team through two sets of lenses:

  • Current Level & Recent Change

  • Thematic Issue & Individual Problems

The Current Level tells me if something is good or bad. The Recent Change tells me which ways it’s headed. The ideal time to deal with a problem is while it’s still good on an absolute basis but starting to trend down. Usually, a minor tweak will restore order.

I also get to see if I have a problem across the team or if there’s a downward trend across an individual. The best course of action for those two would be very different, so knowing which problem you’re solving is critical.

And if you manage managers, this heatmap can light up your entire area, allowing you to see cross-team problems or development opportunities for those leaders.

The last question I’ll leave you with:

Should this process be anonymous?

My experience is No. If you let people lob criticism over the wall with zero accountability for making it better, you’ve set yourself up for an impossible task.

Instead, this is a backstop to conversations I should be having and the stimulus for joint problem-solving.

And for that to work, I need to create an environment where people feel enough trust to be honest. And enough skin in the game to act like owners who’ll drive these issues to resolution with me.

Give it a shot, and let me know how it goes.

We’re Going Live Again

While we love the comments and notes we get every week, it’s hard to beat real conversations with you. So we’re going to bring the MGMT Playbook Live again in a few weeks. And we’d love to feature a few reader management challenges to get that session started.

Hit reply on this email and tell us what’s keeping you up at night.

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Thank you for reading. Appreciate you!


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