Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) is gaining in popularity as an important workforce metric. We’ve been using it as the final question in our WorkXO culture assessment since the very beginning (2016 in our case), and you’ll find it in other platforms as well. If you’re going to measure it, however, you should know (a) how it works and (b) how to properly apply it in your culture/engagement work. In this post, I’ll show you both.
NPS has been around for nearly 20 years, pioneered by Fred Reicheld at Bain & Company. The score is based on survey responses to a single question:
How likely are you to recommend [xyz company, product, or service] to a friend?
Answers are recorded on a scale from zero to ten, but interestingly your score is NOT the average of all the responses. The researchers discovered that moving your average score on that question from say a 7.1 to a 7.9 didn’t translate into increased loyalty or growth like you think it might. What mattered was increasing the number of “promoters,” and decreasing the number of “detractors.”
“Promoters” are the ones that score 9 and 10. They obviously like the product/service in question, but the more important distinction here is that 9s and 10s tend to be the people who ACTIVELY recommend the product on a regular basis. This is in contrast to the people who answer 7 and 8—they may like the product, but they are less likely to take action (they are called “passives” in the model).
Everyone below those two groups is a “detractor.” Interestingly, there is no distinction between people who really hate the product (0 or 1) and people who are just mildly dissatisfied (5 or 6)—turns out everyone in this group is likely to take action based on their negative sentiment.
The research suggested that to improve loyalty, the key is to convert the passives into promoters (people who didn’t used to take positive action are now taking action), AND to convert detractors to passives (which reduces the NEGATIVE actions that are happening). The more you do either of those things, the more loyalty and growth you get.
So your NPS is a single number: % Promoters minus % Detractors. That means the range is actually 200 points wide: negative 100 (all Detractors) to positive 100 (all Promoters). Starbucks has a +77, and Netflix is +68. Tesla has an amazing +96 (source).
Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) follows the same structure, except the question is about likelihood of recommending someone to WORK at an organization. This different question, by the way, means that eNPS scores tend to skew a little bit lower than regular NPS. It’s not as common to see them above 60, and even a score like a +10 is considered to be in the average range for eNPS. Certainly anything below a zero would be a cause for concern.
So what does all that have to do with culture? ENPS is a measure of employee engagement, and your level of employee engagement is a direct result of how well your culture is aligned with what makes people successful. In other words, your eNPS will give you a strong indication of how well your culture is working. It’s not a perfect measure, of course. Individuals will have varying reasons for why they score the way they do, so I wouldn’t obsess over the difference between a +10 and +15.
But when we present the results of our WorkXO Culture Assessment, the eNPS data point is critical for interpreting the results. We show our clients patterns and contradictions inside their culture, and then we help them figure out which of those patterns need to be changed. A company with an eNPS of -20 probably has more patterns it needs to work on, compared to a company with a +25.
ENPS is also very helpful when analyzing the culture scores of your subgroups. If you see that men and women scored noticeably differently on your culture assessment, you should also take a look at how their eNPS scores compare. In some cases, a different culture score doesn’t necessarily mean different levels of engagement (and, similarly, sometimes similar culture scores DO come with different engagement levels). But you need the eNPS data point to do that analysis.
That’s why we recommend gathering eNPS data relatively frequently. A culture assessment is typically done every one or two years, or specifically when there is major change going on that requires a fresh look at your culture patterns. But eNPS is more of a temperature check that you can do several times throughout the year. It’s also useful as part of measuring the progress of your culture change efforts. Our partnership with QuestionPro gives all our clients access to their Workforce Platform, which allows them to run as many surveys as they want in the year following their culture assessment, and eNPS is almost always one of the data points they collect.
Smart organizations will be discerning as they design a data collection strategy, often volleying back and forth between engagement data like eNPS and culture data that uncovers underlying patterns of behavior. You need both sides to make better decisions as you do your culture design work.