Why businesses must look beyond score chasing to improve their culture

| June 15, 2021

In early May, payments unicorn Airwallex made headlines when The Sydney Morning Herald published a story about the poor results of an internal staff survey.

The article, written by Charlotte Grieve, revealed the results of leaked screenshots from within the company that showed the majority of Airwallex compliance and legal employees would not recommend it as a place to work to others at that time.

Both teams registered an employee net promoter score (eNPS) of between negative 12 and negative 15 in a survey taken at the end of last year. On the employee net promoter score, anything below zero means there are more detractors in your business than promoters. In other words, there are more people who wouldn’t recommend the company to a friend or family member than there are people who would.

Employee advocacy continually ranks in the top priorities for progressive brands in Australia, often with good reason. But are scores like the eNPS really telling the whole story? They might be good at addressing the symptoms of the problem, but do nothing to address the root cause. Scores like the eNPS are only part of the picture, and engagement is simply one of the inputs to a business’s overall culture.

Previous research has found an overreliance on engagement survey data as the sole consideration when making cultural decisions. This trend is troubling, given that only one in three HR executives can demonstrate a link between engagement and business performance.

This highlights a regular tension within businesses where HR are historically more focused on feelings and sentiment rather than financials, and business leaders are more focused on driving growth. In reality, both sides of the business should have their eyes on both culture and business growth, because the two play into each other. Culture has a measurable impact on business performance and that link can have a significant impact on a business’s bottom line.

Growth and competition drive employees to work harder for the success of the organisation, a common occurrence among start-ups, but one that often results in burnout or low engagement. It’s simply not a sustainable way to get a good ROP (return on people). Overall, a company needs to balance engagement, performance and business success in order to have healthy results in all areas. By zeroing in on eNPS scores alone, they will never get to the bottom of the story.

The leaked employee surveys are a reminder that businesses need to scrutinise the effectiveness of their employee listening techniques. While it’s critical to survey employees with the right questions, this only provides the organisation with symptoms. If the business genuinely seeks to make a cultural change, it needs to identify the root cause of the problem.