The number 1 growth number: Unions and the net promoter score

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The power of loyalty. Your members are telling you how to grow, but do you hear them?

This article is about a corporate metric that unions should adopt: the net promoter score.

The net promoter score is the number one metric your union needs to help it grow. This number will help you identify and build intensely loyal members, pin-point sites and workplaces with dissatisfied members and unhappy delegates, and assess the effectiveness of organising programs, industrial servicing and more.

In the corporate sector, this one metric remains, after years, the one of the best (and most controversial) predictor of company growth.

And it boils down to a simple idea: the customers (or in unions’ case, members) willingness to recommend a friend or coworker was the strongest sign of loyalty, and therefore, growth. (Of course, it’s not the only metric you should care about.)

The short version of this newsletter: if you’re a leader of your union, you should start measuring your union’s net promoter score from month to month and quarter to quarter. Here’s how.

And before you read the rest of this newsletter, I should disclose that for the past few years, I’ve been tracking the net promoter score for UnionsACT. As of this week, it is +34 (pretty good, but room to improve!).

Your union’s motivated and committed supporters — your activists, delegates and workplace leaders — are among your most important members. Most union leaders and organisers know anecdotally who these loyal supporters are, but does your union have a simple to understand and systematic way to measure the levels of commitment and motivation of your members?

I’ve written previously on my blog about essential metrics that union leaders should know, and how important it is to identify and motivate your committed members. We know that the more enthusiastic, engaged and loyal your members are, the more likely your union is to grow — this is especially correlated through the presence of union delegates in the workplace. (Of course, loyal, enthusiastic members alone won’t guarantee growth, but try growing your union without them!)

There is a large and growing body of research that shows that brand loyalty is also correlated to growth. The more loyal your members (or customers, in the corporate world) are, the more likely they are to remain members (repurchase) and more importantly, recommend joining to others in the workplace.

Unions spend countless hours conducting surveys of members — questions for bargaining and logs of claim, questions on attitudes to politics and legislation,

The Net promoter score is a simple and effective way to gauge how loyal your membership is, and can help your union drill down into individual workplaces and members to help identify your best, most committed and loyal members.

Loyalty is the willingness of someone—a customer, an employee, a friend—to make an investment or personal sacrifice in order to strengthen a relationship. For a customer, that can mean sticking with a supplier who treats him well and gives him good value in the long term even if the supplier does not offer the best price in a particular transaction.

Consequently, customer loyalty is about much more than repeat purchases. Indeed, even someone who buys again and again from the same company may not necessarily be loyal to that company but instead may be trapped by inertia, indifference, or exit barriers erected by the company or circumstance. (

The NPS is a useful tool for unions not just because it helps you identify loyal, committed members, but it also helps foster a culture of feedback, recovery and action in your union. It ensures that members are central to decision-making and the assessment of success. It can be used by organising teams and leads to help improve activities and organising plans.

How do you determine it? By asking one simple question — “How likely is it that you would recommend [union] to a friend or colleague?” Importantly, to make the net promoter score actionable, you must also ask “What was the reason for giving that score?” This allows members to provide context for their numerical score. The qualitative question makes the numerical metric actionable, because it helps you understand why.

Practically, what are the benefits of this score for your union?

Firstly, it systematically categorises your members into promoters, neutrals and detractors. This produces the “net score” across your union, but can also be produced for segments of your membership: states, industries, worksites, etc. The simplicity of the score means it can be communicated effectively through your union.

Secondly, it creates a “closed-loop” system for using feedback to make changes inside your union to increase the number of promoters and decreasing detractors. It means that you, as a union leader, can actually take action to investigate drops in net promote scores in sections of your membership — allowing you take preemptive action to stop membership loss. It can also allow you to identify “bright spots” in your union.

Finally, it can help you put members at the centre of union decision-making at a committee of management or executive level. It can allow you to put the creation of more net promoters (i.e. loyal, enthusiastic members) at the centre of your union’s strategies.

The net promoter score is only useful if it drives action. Specifically, action by the union to address unhappiness or improve loyalty. For this to happen, it needs to become a regular topic of conversation across levels of your union: at a committee of management/executive level, with lead organisers and organisers. If you’re conducting the survey regularly, then you should be able to track when the score goes up or down. Organisers can use it to be able to engage with net detractors to stop them resigning, and to try to turn net promoters into leaders and delegates. The NPS lets you find “touch points” with your members that may be causing unhappiness, like member admin or finance; so sharing the NPS with non-front-line parts of your union is also important.

For the net promoter score to be really valuable, it must be used intentionally. Just because a member says they’ll promote the union doesn’t mean they’ll actually do it. However, by tracking the score, your organisers are empowered to identify and engage with potential activists. Giving training (formal or otherwise) to your net promoters on how to have a structured recruitment conversation is just one immediate thing you can do to promote growth.

Similarly, the value of the net promoter score is not just the recommendation. A net promoter may not actually want to go out there signing up members. But their high score may mean they’re prepared to do a whole lot of other valuable things for your union: speaking to the media, being in photos or videos, lobbying politicians, etc.

Your net promoters are also potential defenders of your union (or unions generally). With unions under constant attack from conservative media and politicians, its likely that some of your promoters are actually out there on Twitter or Facebook vigilantly responding to negative comments. These defenders may go way beyond being simple promoters, and again, their value is not just in recommending someone join your union.

It’s also worth noting that despite the terminology, the detractors aren’t necessarily bad-mouthing your union or unhappy with the union. The nature of the NPS question is that it makes the respondent consider their external environment. For example, as I discuss below, my experience is that UnionsACT’s detractors are mostly people who have family or coworkers that are anti-union or who don’t like politics, so consequently the person would not recommend UnionsACT to them despite their being a donor.

How do I use the NPS system?

Over the last four years at UnionsACT, I have been tracking our net promoter score. This has helped me understand why “supporters” of UnionsACT give us a high or low recommendation rating.

UnionsACT’s promoters are, by and large, people who share strong union values. They believe in unionism as a values-set, rather than seeking specific transactional benefits or services. This makes sense obviously, because as a peak council, UnionsACT doesn’t provide union services per se, and we attract the involvement of people who want to volunteer or donate to the cause.

The vast majority of low ratings are due to “shy” supporters. People who don’t feel comfortable recommending, due to conservative or anti-union family or workmates.

Both of these insights have led me to really focus on UnionsACT’s role in promoting union-pride. I’ve aimed to provide our supporters with a tool-kit to express their values publicly and effectively be a walking billboard for our movement.

Similarly, we have just started to collect NPS scores for our newly launched Young Workers Centre (just launched in July). In this instance, I and my team are hoping the NPS will enable us to identify future young activists, while also enabling us to review the quality and nature of the information service we provide (which is 90% online).

Controversies and criticisms

Of course, the net promoter score is controversial in the corporate world. The main criticism boils down to its simplicity. How can something as complex as a customer’s brand loyalty and corporate profitability be reduced to a single number? This simplicity is one of the main sources of criticism of the NPS, but in my view is also one of its strengths.

Since the NPS first came on the scene back in 2006, numerous academic studies have examined its effectiveness as a predictive score. These studies have found that, more or less, the NPS is attitudinal rather than behavioural — this means that it measures people who say they’ll recommend, but don’t necessarily actually recommend. This is a valid criticism, and if you adopt or use the NPS in your union (which I recommend), then its important to recognise this. Just because the terminology of the NPS says people are “promoters ” or “detractors”, in fact they may not be out there positively (or negatively) talking about your union for a number of reasons.


As I said at the start of this newsletter, the NPS is not a silver bullet and won’t automatically mean your union grows. Rather, it is a simple and easily actionable metric to measure loyalty. Loyalty is directly linked to growth.

For union leaders, it is a metric I think should absolutely be measured, if you want to start focusing on growth via your union’s attention on member loyalty.

For unions that don’t regularly conduct member satisfaction surveys, this score and its question is a brilliant first place to start to help you adopt and internalise a loyal-member-centric approach.

For unions that already regularly survey member satisfaction, adding a net promoter score question will give an additional tool to your leadership team and organisers.

And what is a good net promoter score? Rankings in Australia and New Zealand in the corporate sector put anything above +20 as “favourable” and anything above +50 as “excellent”.