Your ear is still ringing. It’s been several minutes since the last call, but you can’t bear to count how many pink message slips remain in the stack your assistant handed you after lunch. It’s like each caller got to listen to the one before and has an even better complaint about the recent change in the benefits plan. You’ve got a Detractor problem.

Promoters and Detractors behave in dramatically different ways. They produce dramatically different results.  The simplest way to think about the Promoters and Detractors theory of engagement is to think of employees like customers of the employment opportunity you offer. 

Your employment benefits are the “product” your company offers employees:  wages and benefits, safety and security, personal growth and socialization.  Your employee-customers purchase the “product” from the company with their time and talents.  Some employee-customers are fiercely loyal and dedicated to the company. They are evangelists for the company and go above and beyond at work. Others are disloyal and disengaged, offering no more value (work product – results) in exchange for “the product” than necessary to remain employed.  Promoters are on the positive side of this scale or metric while Detractors are on the negative side.


Promoters are employees who will recommend your company to a friend or family member, just as a customer might recommend a product or service to a friend.  They are, on balance, strong supporters or advocates of the organization.  Through their thoughts, words and behaviors, they promote the objectives, initiatives, decisions, products or services of their employer organizations. 

Whether consciously or unconsciously, these employee-customers “promote” their positive view of the organization and encourage others to do the same.  They speak in favor of the organization and their role in it.  They promote a favorable reputation internally and externally, and make it more widely known.  Their words and actions make the organization more successful. 

  • Promoters turnover at much lower rates than Detractors.  They have longer and more profitable relationships with a Company.  Often Detractors leave before the investment in selection and training can be recovered.  In some cases, we recognize those departures as mistakes.
  • Promoters are normally less focused on the “price” (total compensation) than other employee-customers.  They tend to feel the employment opportunity is a good value overall. While everyone wants to make more money, Detractors are never satisfied and normally let you know it.  Detractors complain, sometimes endlessly, about various elements of their work and consume disproportional amounts of management time and energy.
  • Promoters spend more of their energy adding value.  They are often those employee-customers who come to work in the morning and share the idea they had in the shower.  They think about work and work longer because they like working.
  • Promoters take pride in being a part of the business or organization.  They get a career related sense of achievement from talking about their work and their employer.  Most important, they grow, support and maintain the positive image of the organization in the community.  In the context of our efforts at the company, community should be read labor market.  Promoters often recommend other Promoters for employment.  They refer their friends and families to us.  One referral at a time, we have opportunity to grown the ranks of our Promoters and see our Detractors minority shrink further.


Neutral employee-customers are passive about their employment; they are neither Promoters nor Detractors.  Some remain neutral or passive forever.  Most, however, are in transition from one orientation to another.  This is one reason positive management practices and employee relations are so important to your success. 

Skilled managers understand they are politicians stumping for the hearts and minds of the “mushy-middle,” the undecided.  (They are unlikely to change the Promoters or Detractors.)  The undecided will typically gravitate to one or the other orientation rather than remain passive forever.  The choice made by the undecided employee-customer, positive or negative, is a function of skilled leadership, fair practices and respectful treatment.  (In an NLRB election, the decisions made by these “mushy middle” voters determines who wins.)


Nothing is more important in the management of human resources than to increase the number of Promoters and decrease the number of Detractors in your business.  Ultimately, nothing is more important to the success of your enterprise.  Detractors are the opposite of Promoters.  Again:

  • Detractors turnover at much higher rates.  They are often, not always, hiring mistakes.
  • Detractors are never satisfied; they consume too much management time and energy.
  • Detractors work hard at switching-off when they leave work because they don’t like what they are doing.  This is not to say being able to “switch-off” is bad.  Detractors generally don’t get joy from work and tend to do and think about work as little as possible.
  • Detractors say nothing or worse about the business or organization.  They often hurt the image of the organization in the community.

Net Promoter Score

Promoters, Detractors, and Neutrals are defined by their answer to several net promoter questions in our employee satisfaction survey instrument. Based on the scores to these statements, we can identify how many employees are in each category. The sum of Promoters less Detractors is your Net Promoter Score.  If you have more Promoters than Detractors, you probably have a positive working environment.

It is also helpful to identify the issues that are most important to the Neutrals, and to those Detractors at the upper end of the Detractor portion of the scale. Your highest leveraged actions are those that move Neutrals up the scale to Promoters. Your next highest value actions are those that move Detractors into the Neutral zone (and then eventually into the Promoter zone).

This strategy calls for periodic reassessment, as the correlation of issues to those at various zones on the scale will change over time with the implementation of improvement strategies. We recommend sampling employees using our 3 “net promoter” statements once per month. This gives you a monthly “snapshot” of your organization and lets you spot troubling trends quickly. If the scores start to slip, you can then conduct a more extensive survey. If you can get your Net Promoter Score into the positive, and keep it moving up, you are on your way to success!

Note: Thanks to my friend and colleague Austin Clary for his thoughts and input on this article.

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