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Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS): Pure Theatre

Find out why we see Employee Net Promoter Score ( eNPS ) as a flawed measure of employee experience or ‘Analytics Theatre’ and what’s better survey practice.

Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS): Pure Theatre

When we set up The People Experience Hub, one thing we knew that we did not want to offer our clients the Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) methodology. This blog sets out why, as a counterpart to our guide to good data collection (as well as a similar critique of ‘sliders’).

What’s wrong with eNPS?

A big part of our reason for being comes from our frustration with [employee feedback](/employee-feedback) platforms that seem to be more concerned with their ‘solution’ than actually helping organisations solve people problems.  eNPS, to us, is an example of this.

There is a lot of research and opinion out there now that shows how Net Promoter Score,  upon which eNPS is based, is flawed - a product of poor design.

eNPS is Analytics Theatre

The best description I have heard calls the results that eNPS creates ’Analytics Theatre’. It describes what we have here; a model that produces drama, not something that helps you think about your people or to see how you are improving (or not).

How does eNPS work?

First, eNPS asks for a rating from 0 to 10, as below. It then splits people into three groups: Detractors, Passives and Promoters and provides a score using the following calculation:

Number of Promoters minus number of Detractors divided by total respondents multiplied by 100

Detractors

Passives

Promoters

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

                     

So, what is wrong with this?

Well NPS was designed to ask consumers one question "How likely are you to recommend us to friends or family?"

But people have started to use the methodology for lots of different questions and, as it arguably didn't work in the first place, we should not be surprised that it doesn’t work when we apply it to employee engagement, as Employee Net Promoter Score.

To illustrate why, let’s step through an example for a team of 10 people.

You ask your ‘killer’ question (which we’ll come back to):

"How likely are you to recommend us as a great place to work to your friends and family?"

And let us say you get the following response:

Group

Detractors

Passives

Promoters

Score

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

Responses

     

10

             

 

For the sake of simplicity, let’s say all 10 respondents score 3/10, giving an eNPS of -100% (Minus 100%).

The average score is also 3 (remember this – this is important).

You then make some changes, and ask the question again:

You get this better response:

Group

Detractors

Passives

Promoters

Score

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

Responses

         

10

         

 

Wow! Great result, your average score is 5  – you have improved by 2 points per person.

Your eNPS is -100% (Minus 100%).

So, actually using eNPS nothing has changed!

You make some more changes, and you ask the question again:

Group

Detractors

Passives

Promoters

Score

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

Responses

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

10

0

0

 

Fantastic, you are now 5 points up on your original average score!

Your NPS is 0%

So, we have a few problems here that you may have noticed:

  1. eNPS is terrible at showing improvement over time
  2. The score does not make that much sense (how would you explain this to a group of employees?)
  3. It creates dramatic results (hence the term Analytics Theatre)

What about comparing teams?

Ok, so let's assume you have two teams and you compare the eNPS for both.

Team 1 has the following response:

Group

Detractors

Passives

Promoters

Score

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

Responses

 

10

                 

 

Team 2 has the following response:

Group

Detractors

Passives

Promoters

Score

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

Responses

           

10

       

 

Team 1 has an eNPS score of -100% (Minus 100%)

Team 2 has an eNPS score of -100% (Minus 100%)

We can see here that Team 1 has a pretty bad score and will possibly need a lot of your attention while team 2 are, while not outstanding, doing OK.

But...both have the same eNPS score of -100% (Minus 100%)

In other words, eNPS might give you a false picture of where there are and are not real problems to deal with.

We have a few mantras at The Px Hub, two of which are:

  1. Go where the problem is – by this we mean, do not put effort into areas where there are no issues, tackle issues face on and resolve them for your people
  2. People Experience by Design – understanding your people better lets you build stuff that works to improve the world of work for your people

eNPS represents a potential barrier both to going where the problem is and to really understanding your people better.

So why do people like eNPS?

Back when Bain & Co created the NPS methodology, it was sold as "The one number you to help grow!" and was designed to be used as a Customer Satisfaction indicator.

When companies had so many customer metrics, the idea of a single number was enticing. And, to be fair, when you’re talking about a relatively simple, transactional relationship that’s not completely unreasonable.

Then someone had the bright idea of applying this logic to the employee experience, something that is multidimensional, complex and deeply meaningful to most people.

Not so bright, in other words.

So aside from the fact that eNPS’s calculation method can obscure reality, the fact that it is a single item measure is, in itself, far from ideal.

If you really must use a single-item measure of engagement, then how?

Let’s say you still feel compelled to use one question as a measure of engagement and you choose the same one as eNPS, i.e: "I would recommend this as a great place to work to my friends or family".

Then we would recommend a simple two-step approach:

  1. A binary Yes / No response. (Take away the nuance).
  2. Capture data internally on vacancies filled by employee referrals to validate whether people are actually doing what they say this will.

So what is the best way to collect employee engagement data?

The answer to this isn’t particularly dramatic, or exciting, but involves first making sure that you have a clear rationale for choosing the questions that you want to answer. There is no “best” question because engagement doesn’t occur in a vacuum. The questions that you ask must be relevant in the context of your People Strategy.

Then, your questions should be carefully written and use appropriate response types. In our experience that most often means five-point Likert scales, and we’ve written a more detailed explanation of why in another blog.

 

At The People Experience Hub, we are always happy to connect with people and chat through what you are up to and if we can help you we would be delighted to do so, even if this is a coffee and a chat.

If you found this blog interesting you may also want to check out our blog on Sliders that explores how using a sliding scale can mean your people are not completing your employee surveys!


(Check out our guide to running employee surveys](https://pxhub.io/blog/guide-to-employee-surveys-1-design))

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