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Three ways the employee Net Promoter Score is an HR supertool

Employee experience borrows a number of tools from customer experience, and eNPS is one of the most powerful. Here's a look at what it is, why it matters and how to use it.

How many of your employees would recommend your company as a good place to work?

That simple question -- albeit with more specifics -- represents a concept called the employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS), and it can provide a powerful glimpse into how employees feel about your company. And that is critical to your competitive edge. Indeed, more and more research is showing something that may seem obvious upon reflection: Companies filled with workers who want to be there are more successful.

Here's a look at four ways the employee Net Promoter Score can give line-of-business and HR leaders a competitive edge in employee experience and retention and three caveats you should know about using eNPS well.

ENPS uncovers employee loyalty

The idea behind the employee Net Promoter Score originated in the consumer world, where marketers learned they could better understand consumer behavior by asking, "On a scale of zero to 10, how likely would you be to recommend this product to a friend?" Marketers and product teams found the customer-focused Net Promoter Score (NPS) made it easier to assess how small changes in the product, delivery and experience affected customer satisfaction. In a similar manner, an eNPS survey asks a group of employees, "On a scale of zero to 10, how likely would you be to recommend this company to a friend or colleague as a place to work?"

Just as NPS can help companies get into the minds of customers, so too can eNPS uncover your employees' loyalty.

Justyna Krzych, change manager at Zalando SE, an online fashion store based in Berlin, said, "The main benefit of eNPS is the simplicity of measurement and analyzing the results over time. I also find it very respondent-friendly. The format is familiar, and the time investment is minimal, which tends to increase the response rate."

Samuel Stern, principal analyst of customer experience at Forrester, has a similar take. "The advantage of eNPS is that it provides a single metric and one that yields a number that feels familiar to the large swath of executives who have become comfortable with NPS," Stern said. "A single metric and single number are valuable both for focusing attention and making it easy for people to know how the organization is doing."

As powerful as the employee Net Promoter Score is, many are finding that it works best combined with additional questions and other tools to help company leaders and HR better understand the employee experience and guide better policy and decision-making.

ENPS works synergistically with other tools

The employee Net Promoter Score provides a kind of barometer that can be complemented with other surveys and tools to get a better sense of how a company can improve employee experience. For example, Krzych said that, in her previous workplace where she was head of people and culture, she used eNPS to complement more robust annual surveys. By using eNPS as a monthly check-in, her team was able to find a link between changes the company was going through or undertaking and employee morale. This made it easier to implement targeted response actions, which, in some cases, delivered significant impact.

"It's also a great way to start being more intentional about employee experience,” Krzych said. However, it is also good to combine it with qualitative measures to identify triggers and levers and be able to act on them. This could be as simple as adding "why" questions to the survey, which makes it easier to understand what really matters to employees and what actions to focus on.

The eNPS survey is quickly informative

Speaking to the idea of measurement and surveys generally, Sarah Frazier, senior marketing manager at CustomerGauge, a customer and employee experience analytics vendor, said that length and follow-up are the two biggest problems affecting response rate and actionable follow-up. For any survey method, generally speaking, shorter is better. Longer surveys reduce response rates and create survey fatigue. This can also skew results if people make random selections to finish the survey.

CustomerGauge research has shown that surveys with between two and four questions lead to about a 5% response rate. Frazier said, "[Employee Net Promoter Score] surveys, like NPS surveys, are short, sweet and to the point by using a few questions and drivers to define root causes behind issues within a company or position quickly." Shorter surveys can be sent more quickly, with once per quarter per employee being a good rule of thumb. More frequent results can be captured by staggering surveys across a subset of employees in different departments.

Why following up on the eNPS survey is critical

Simply conducting the survey and living with the score is not enough; actions need to be taken to put stake in eNPS.
Sarah FrazierSenior marketing manager, CustomerGauge

Companies can use anonymous surveys to encourage participation but also to provide an option to follow up with employees concerning issues they have. "This makes employees feel heard and offers a sense of security when addressing concerns with staff," Frazier said. CustomerGauge has found that 53% of employees would stay longer with their current employer if they felt more appreciation.

Acting in response to the survey is also important for making employees feel heard. Being public about this follow-up can help build buy-in for future surveys as well. "Simply conducting the survey and living with the score is not enough; actions need to be taken to put stake in eNPS," Frazier said.

An eNPS survey system can also be integrated with review and referral tools as part of talent acquisition. It's also a good practice to use eNPS in conjunction with other key performance indicators (KPIs) to understand its impact on employee churn and performance.

The limits of eNPS' simplicity

The big weakness of the employee Net Promoter Score is that it only gets at one factor of advocacy around recommending a company as an employer, Forrester's Stern said. It does not capture willingness to recommend products and services or willingness to expend discretionary effort. Also, it is not diagnostic. Companies don't know how to improve the employee experience purely by measuring eNPS.

"Yet, I see a lot of companies only measure employee engagement or only measure eNPS, and not ask questions of employees about what is important to them in their work lives," Stern said. He pointed out that the ease of having a single metric with an easily understandable number can create its own issues, such as executives reading too much into changes in eNPS, similar to problems with NPS. "The number went up, and so our employee experience must be getting better. ENPS went down, and we have a crisis," he said.

The importance of looking to customer experience

Forrester recommends companies adopt a voice of the employee program, like what they may already be doing for customers. This provides more anecdotal data that complements the numbers in employee Net Promoter Score surveys. This can also make it easier to hear about issues or ideas HR may never have thought to ask about.

Another approach is to apply the same techniques used to map customer journey to employee journeys. These could be applied to performance reviews from employee and manager perspectives, the new hire journey and the becoming-a-manager journey. This can provide a deeper understanding of what is working and what matters to employees at key points in their work lives. It can also guide HR and other managers in creating better experiences to meet those expectations.

Part of this process involves learning to understand the drivers of what makes a great employee experience. "This can include having employees feeling like they have a balance between demands and resources, that work is challenging, but that they are able to grow and learn and make progress to meet the challenge," Stern said.

The employee Net Promoter Score can play a role in gaining the data and insights to create these better experiences.

Getting the most from eNPS

Sarah Frazier, senior marketing manager at CustomerGauge, offered some best practices for getting the most out of the employee Net Promoter Score.

  • When starting an eNPS survey campaign, be sure to explain the benefits employees will have by taking the survey. In addition, always give an anonymous option, as well as an option to follow up. This will dramatically increase response rates.
  • HR and departmental managers need to be on the same page when it comes to the purpose of an eNPS program. Is it to reduce employee turnover? Is it to pinpoint where changes can be made to internal processes? Is it to increase employee referrals? Is it all of the above? Make your goals clear, and ensure organizational buy-in at every level.
  • In addition to understanding the purpose, those in a leadership position need to determine a proper closed-loop follow-up for employees that choose to be contacted after a survey. Employees can often feel uncomfortable offering negative criticism, so having the right attitude among your management team is important to impactful change and creating an environment where employees feel supported. Not following up is simply not an option.
  • Once employees have completed a survey and the results have been analyzed, make sure you send a thank you note explaining what key insights you found and what changes you are making in reaction to that feedback.
  • Make sure to keep track of other valuable KPIs in relation to eNPS: employee churn, employee retention rate, employee performance, employee productivity and so on. After all, what's a metric without a bit more context on the effects to the bottom line?

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