Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) is a quick way to measure employee engagement, health of the organization and is a great alternative to traditional lengthy employment surveys. In this post, I explore the (dis)advantages of eNPS and look into the ways leading to its successful implementation.
Net Promoter Score (NPS) is widely known as the one number you need to grow and was originally developed as a tool used to predict company growth by measuring the likelihood of recommending the service/product by the customer. The simplicity of the measurement of Net Promoter Score has been the most prominent characteristic since its launch in 2003. As a single-question survey and a standardized market research tool, it is commonly used by companies across various industries to gauge customer loyalty. Yet, it seems that this method has as many adversaries as advocates and there is no unanimous opinion about its validity.
Employee Net Promoter Score is a variant of this method, asking employees how likely they would recommend a company as a great place to work. An increasing number of companies decide to use eNPS to gauge the engagement of their teams. Some of them explicitly tie together NPS with eNPS, because it helps them understand better which elements of the employee engagement most influence customer loyalty, so that they can work towards improving both.
Culture and engagement are one of the main topics in today’s vibrant discussion about the future of work. According to a recent report (2015) conducted by Linkedin, 36% of people who switched jobs left their previous employer because they were unsatisfied with the work environment/culture. Employee engagement matters because it’s directly linked to critical business metrics: productivity, revenue growth, and retention. A Gallup poll reports 68% of US workers to be disengaged in their work. Yet, only 12% of companies surveyed by Deloitte in 2016 believe that they understand their culture, and 46% report that they are prepared to tackle the engagement challenge.
With statistics like these, it’s vital for every organization to be equipped with a solid tool to measure employee engagement and be able to take actions to influence its levels because engaged employees proactively add value to the company while being aligned with its mission.
Employee Net Promoter Score Overview
Employee Net Promoter Score gets praise for its compact form, preventing survey fatigue, easiness of calculating the result and the ability to benchmark it, as well as for the possibility of repeating the measurement frequently due to its simplicity. All of these attributes certainly put eNPS in a favorable position. Indeed, asking a well-constructed question can bring substantial information. What is the downside then?
Simplicity, the ultimate advantage of Employee Net Promoter Score also serves as the source of its limitations. Firstly, we might observe a drop in the results, but we don’t know the reasons why they dropped. We end up with a potentially valuable information in hand, yet unable to act on it in a concrete direction. Another difficulty comes with the lack of universal range of eNPS results that companies can consider as “healthy” which makes it ambiguous for interpretation. eNPS can also be dangerous because it captures only one single data point, ignoring the fact of the often nuanced interactions that employees have with the company. A classic example would consider employees who might be disengaged or unsatisfied, but still willing to recommend the company to someone else. And the reverse – some employees might be very enthusiastic about their workplace, but not eager to recommend it to their close network. Another restraint comes with the lack of cultural sensitivity. To be marked as a promoter, an employee needs to rank the likelihood of recommendation at 9 or 10 (on a 0-10 scale where 7 and 8 are classified as passive employees, and 0-6 as detractors). However, research has found Likert scale to be susceptible to cultural differences in response styles (see example) which can alter the accuracy of the results.
Overall, Employee Net Promoter Score seems to serve well as a pulse-check question, however, it lacks the depth of analysis that would enable drawing thorough conclusions about employee engagement and increasing its levels. There’s also little published validation confirming a significant correlation between eNPS and other metrics of employee engagement, loyalty or satisfaction.
Should we then consider eNPS as impractical and refrain from using it at all?
Getting Actual Value from eNPS
Data is relevant only when you can do something with it. Having in mind that the simplicity of eNPS can be deceptive, you can still implement it provided you also make a few adjustments. Here are some best practices that will help you in developing an informed path forward.
- Ask why
- Combine eNPS with other metrics
- Tie the results to action
- Benchmark and consider the context
1. ASK WHY
A simple follow-up question provides information about the quality of the employee experience and about the reasons for a particular rating. You can ask all survey participants the same question (Why did you choose this answer?) or rephrase it accordingly:
- For promoters: What do you appreciate the most about [company name]?
- For passives: What would make your experience at [company name] even better?
- For detractors: What can we do to improve your experience at [company name]?
The challenge? Categorizing and analyzing qualitative data requires more effort, but it is a valid source of additional insights and, most importantly, it addresses the main downside of eNPS. Not only does it drive your attention to the areas that make the company attractive and unique (promoter benefits), but it also immediately points you in the direction of the most impactful changes you can implement that will increase engagement levels (detractor issues).
2. COMBINE eNPS WITH OTHER METRICS
As already mentioned, eNPS on its own doesn’t provide enough information for decision making. Thus, consider combining its interpretation with other metrics:
- external evaluations
- satisfaction surveys
- exit interviews data
- business outcomes (performance metrics, sales data, customer satisfaction levels)
It will allow you to track any irregularities when it comes to employee engagement, especially during the times that require deeper analysis – rapid growth, acquisition or culture transformation. You don’t want an oversupply of reports, but you need to be confident that the information you rely on accurately reflects the current reality.
3. TIE THE RESULTS TO ACTION
To be effective, measuring engagement should be established as a process rather than a single event that enables the company to hear and respond to employee needs in a timely and focused way. It is important to take note of the common oversimplification – most companies view personal satisfaction as a proxy for engagement which often leads to missing key behavioral signals.
In my own work, I like to adopt a more holistic approach to understanding engagement and extend the analysis of Employee Net Promoter Score by organizing follow-up focus groups or conducting stay interviews. Going beyond conventional engagement ratings (low/medium/high) allows you to understand employees’ perceptions and how they relate to actual behaviors on the organizational level. Additionally, it enables to gain additional insights of the selected groups of employees (per team, tenure, or function). It thus minimizes the risks of misinterpretation and serves as a medium to craft solutions tailored to the issues that people feel most pressured about.
4. BENCHMARK AND CONSIDER THE CONTEXT
Lastly, develop a regular survey cadence and set the internal benchmarks that will indicate the state of your organization. Since eNPS captures a single point in time, always consider the results in a broader context of all business circumstances. These practices will improve the quality of your analysis. Firstly, by adjusting for the lack of cultural sensitivity as some cultures refrain from using extreme scores. Secondly, historical data that includes the context can help you anticipate engagement levels and employee needs in the light of upcoming organizational changes and similar events, which allows you to take preventive actions.
According to Bersin by Deloitte, employee engagement has become the top issue on the minds of business leaders, directing us to an entirely new model of management. Thoughtfully implemented, Employee Net Promoter Score can serve as a basic pulse survey to measure engagement frequently. It can be the first step that will allow your organization to move from “once and done” to “always listening” survey approach, and help in understanding the components of culture and engagement and how they co-create the path to reaching your company’s strategy.