Is Your Team Really Engaged?

Last week David Hassell, CEO of 15Five, exposed the alarming state of disengagement that most companies are facing with their employees today. According to David, 30% of employees are looking for other positions while they’re at work, and 39% of employers are concerned that they’ll lose some of their top talent in 2013. These numbers are real and they come at a considerable cost to our organizations. How would your company fare in this survey?

I know my answer today would be very different from what it was three years ago.

In 2011, HubSpot gave David Cancel and me charge of HubSpot's product and engineering organization. But this change in leadership and vision came at a difficult and emotional time for the team, which resulted in a rapidly changing and fluctuating level of engagement that was very hard to grapple with. What we knew for sure was that we needed to find a better way to understand our team’s level of engagement, and to respond to the feedback we received.

Fortunately, the HubSpot product team already had established a regular, consistent practice of calculating an employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS). Every quarter, they’d ask each member of the team the following simple question: “On a scale from 0 to 10, would you recommend HubSpot as a place to work?” In fact, they’d been doing this for years. We didn’t hesitate to continue this practice, and to expand on what we saw as a tremendously useful tool.

With our historical data, we were able to establish a baseline eNPS of 30, with 8 detractors who were unwilling to recommend HubSpot as a place to work. Not surprisingly, our next step was to get right to work finding ways to improve the engagement and enthusiasm of our team. After three years of strenuous effort in this direction - and lots of lessons learned -- we found ourselves in 2014 with an eNPS score of 79, and just 1 detractor.  This is particularly exciting when you consider that the highest publicly reported NPS score in 2013 was an 80 (at USAA Insurance), and that Apple’s highest NPS score ever was 76.

So what happened?

It wasn’t the work of just one person, and it certainly didn’t happen overnight. Rather, it was a deliberate effort on the part of our entire team to turn things around. But there are a few practices that, in retrospect, proved invaluable in our efforts to improve employee engagement and to learn and grow as a team.

Always be measuring (engagement)

It takes effort and commitment to consistently measure engagement, but having five years’ worth of reliable survey data has been priceless to our team. You should really try to start doing this today. The basic NPS question might sound simple -- and the NPS scoring could be considered harsh -- but I truly believe that it’s the only question that matters. If your own people aren’t willing to recommend you as an employer, then they are not engaged and you will not be able to build a successful team.

Establish multiple channels for feedback

The most important avenue for feedback is through our weekly face-to-face 1-1 meetings. Nothing beats a real conversation. But you also need to hear the feedback that people won’t say to your face. For this, we use three different tools: SurveyMonkey, TinyPulse, and 15Five. Each one has different strengths and applications, so we use each at different intervals and with different goals in mind.

We keep all of our surveys down to one or two questions maximum, and try to ensure that each survey takes only a moment to complete. And it’s always optional for employees to fill out these surveys. We don’t really find we have a hard time getting a high level of participation, especially once it’s been established that we are taking positive action based on the feedback we receive. So it’s important to communicate clearly what steps you’re taking to address the feedback you receive, to, and to remain accountable to this process over the long haul.

Transparency builds trust

Don’t let your survey responses disappear into the black hole of management. Make it easy for everyone on your team to see the raw responses from the survey (with respondent data left anonymous, of course), so that each employee can see how his or her colleagues feel about the company and its culture. This focuses everyone on the most important thing: How to best address the feedback. It encourages everyone to speak up and ultimately to do something about it. Every time I read our responses, it makes me feel like we’re team working towards the same goal, rather than an assortment of individuals working only for our own good.

Because getting feedback is great, but without positive action, it’s worthless. I’ve learned more from my team than from any book out there. They have helped me grow enormously through their feedback and they’ve taught me how to serve them better. For example, one of the most helpful pieces of feedback I received was that I needed to improve my communication style. This has shaped how I as a manager communicate decisions, how we as a management team share our vision, and how we as a team share big wins and progress to the rest of the company.

We live in a very competitive talent market. And while hiring great talent takes a huge amount of effort, losing talent is easily twice as costly. David Hassell says that 39% of employers are concerned that they’ll lose top talent this year. I’m more concerned that the rest of us are naive enough to think that we’re not at risk of losing our best talent, too.