Employee NPS seems like a stupid metric

Image for post
Image for post

Let’s talk for a few seconds about employee net promoter score.

If you’re generally familiar with the idea of net promoter score, or NPS — here’s a cool podcast with the guy who created it — it’s a management tool used to gauge how successful a company’s external relationships are. If you do a booth at a trade show and you send out a survey afterwards about the effectiveness of the booth, you might get an average “6” (1–10) as net promoter score. That means the partners who showed up at your booth kinda maybe thought it was good. Work harder next year, James.

Employee net promoter score is the same thing but internal. It’s a metric on how much people like working there or would recommend the employer to a friend looking for a job.

The question is, though: is employee net promoter score a good metric?

Two quick things upfront on employee surveys

Thing 1: many employee satisfaction surveys are a complete joke. People hastily fill them out before a deadline, the top decision-makers never look at them, and there’s one big meeting about the results. Usually they are presented in a mostly-positive way and then no one discusses it until the same time next year.

Thing 2: we put a metric on everything in business that matters. We don’t really seem to have great metrics for employee morale or engagement, and yet we wonder why those things are often so low. No metric = it doesn’t matter. Hate to break that to you, but …

Can employee net promoter score save the day?

Employee net promoter score to the rescue?

Here’s an article about a company in Idaho offering “workplace audits.” So you can get certified as a fair, humane, equitable, overall good place to work. Interesting concept. More on that in a second. Here’s a quote:

Most inventively, GoodWell created a new metric for overall employee satisfaction based off the consumer satisfaction concept of “net promoter score” or how likely a buyer would be to recommend some product to others. The company’s “eNPS” or “employee-based net promoter score” asks current employees how likely they would be to recommend their workplace to others on a scale of 1 to 10 and creates a metric about how good a place a given company is to work at. “Most companies do kind of an employee happiness survey or something along those lines, but they don’t really have a scientific approach to measuring how they are perceived by their employees,” adds Gombert. “We provide a methodology to be able to do that, which is tremendously valuable for them.”

OK. Let’s unpack this for a second.

Is this whole concept kind of BS?

It may be. For example, if you read the article, the CEO to average worker pay gap can be 100x and you can be classified as a “fair place to work.” Hmmm. Seems maybe not that fair, but that might be me.

On this employee net promoter score idea, though, I have two questions/concerns:

  • If you’re simply averaging 1–10 scores of employees, is that a “scientific approach to how you’re perceived?”
  • Will executives even remotely care?

Let’s do these questions in order.

Is employee net promoter score scientific?

Personally I would say no, unless there’s some form of control group. Also, usually the window to fill out an employee survey is 14–30 days long. Some will fill it out at various different times, when stress could be higher/lower. I know some people that fill it out and put 5s for everything on a 1–10. I’ve also worked with people who just use it to slam their direct boss because they have no other avenue to do that.

To me, then, taking a bunch of 1–10 scores and dividing by number of employees doesn’t seem scientific so much as “Who was mad on this day?” random.

According to this OfficeVibe article, some companies don’t count 7 or 8 scores on employee net promoter score in order to weed out “neutrals.” (8 seems high to be neutral, but OK.)

The other bothersome thing, as noted in this article, is that many companies aren’t doing it to make their employees’ lives better. Instead, they’re calculating employee net promoter score as a way to save money on hiring and/or promotion. This leads to the next point.

Will executives care about employee net promoter score?

Forward-thinkers? Yes.

Every place I’ve worked? Absolutely not.

Until the robots come for all of us, we need to get better about making work actually, well, WORK for people. This newsletter helps with that. And it’s only once a week.

Simplest way to say this: people high up a chain mostly care about what they are bonus’ed or given incentives on. I would bet you my 401K — ha, it’s not much — that almost no enterprise executive has the words “employee net promoter score” within 568 yards of his bonus documents. Growth, profit, revenue, new deals, maybe some run rate stuff, etc. Employee stuff? A Jedi executive seeks not these things.

This brings us to a tree falls in the forest problem. Here’s the set-up:

  • If the goal of an employee net promoter score is to understand and develop loyalty in the org …
  • … but the people who’d have to approve anything to do with loyalty programs don’t really care that much …
  • … and really the math isn’t super scientific …
  • … then does the employee net promoter score make a difference?

I’d lean no.

What’s the better alternative?

Well, this is harder to track on a spreadsheet — and so companies would go nuts trying to figure out how to do it — but I’d say something like this:

  • Mandate that each manager has to speak to each direct report 2x/month
  • The manager and the direct report each write up a summary of what was discussed and next steps, pros/cons
  • Someone, ideally not in HR, manages all these documents
  • Every month, you go through and look for themes
  • Fraying relationships, people not meeting, issues that keep coming up
  • Those themes get condensed into a one-pager
  • That one-pager gets tied to any fiscal needs or outlays (CFO/accounting department)
  • Now the one-pager with “This stuff might cost us XYZ money” goes to the executive committee

What you did here is talked to people about what’s really going on, then analyzed those discussions for themes, tied those themes to money, and presented that up the ladder. It’s way better, IMHO, than “Sarah once said we were a 4 but today she thinks we are an 8 and let’s take the arbitrary end number and never discuss it again.” This one is rooted in actual discussions and analysis.

What else might you add on employee net promoter score?

Written by

Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money: http://thecontextofthings.com/hire-freelance-writer-ted-bauer/

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store