Disrupting a Tradition: The Only Engagement Number You Need to Know

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Author: Tracey Smith | Source: HCI | Published: April 21, 2015

In October 2014, an article entitled, “Analytics Leaders Discuss New Trends,” recapped the discussions of a Talent Analytics Leadership Roundtable hosted by Northwestern University. Identified in these trends was the need to overhaul employee engagement measurement. Many organizations have moved from an annual measurement in favour of a continual one. I agree with that change because the engagement score is incredibly sensitive to when people answer the survey relative to such factors as recent business events and even the weather.

I would like to suggest another significant change to measuring engagement based on a concept from 12 years ago.

In 2003, Harvard Business Review (HBR) released an article entitled, “One Number You Need to Grow” by Frederick Reichheld. In that article, the author examines the value of investing a lot of time and money in measuring customer satisfaction. In HR, I liken this to the time and money spent on measuring employee engagement.

Reichheld tested the ability of questions on customer satisfaction surveys to predict company growth and found that most questions do not correlate with growth. That’s good news in that companies don’t need to spend a lot of money on expensive surveys. From his research, he concluded that for most industries, only one question is needed: “How likely is it that you would recommend our company to a friend or colleague?” He then defines a “net-promoter score” as the ratio of promoters to detractors. Promoters are those that answer in the 9-10 range on the question and detractors are 0-6 (on a question scale of 0-10). As you can see, you have to REALLY want to recommend a company to be counted as a promoter. Those in the 7-8 range are called “passively satisfied.” The author subtracts the percentage of detractors from the percentage of promoters to calculate his net promoter score. World-class companies have a score of 75% or higher.

What does this have to do with HR and engagement? I believe that the same concept from this paper can be extended to measuring engagement and we can create a net promoter score for employees. Having answered engagement surveys for many years that consist of 20 or more questions, I have always believed that only one question mattered. Much like the HBR article, the most personal questions are the one that matter. With one’s reputation on the line in making a recommendation, the most careful consideration will be made when recommending something to a family member or friend.

So, for all the questions we are used to seeing on an engagement survey, I think the following will be the only one to yield valuable insight over time:

How likely is it that you would recommend our company to a friend or colleague?

We can then calculate a net promoter’s score for our employees and interpret the results in a similar way to Reichheld interpreting customer satisfaction.

So, let’s get to work on testing the ability of our engagement survey questions to truly impact business outcomes. If they don’t, let them go.