Proving employee engagement has a direct impact on business results

Northwestern Mutual: Proving employee engagement has a direct impact on business results


Northwestern Mutual had a number of important business initiatives planned that would require employees to think and act differently—in many cases requiring extra effort, better performance and more openness to change.

Before investing in any large-scale employee engagement programs, the executive management team charged the communications and HR functions with the responsibility of proving the business utility and impact of employee engagement. The proof needed to stand up to the company’s toughest skeptics (seasoned actuaries and accountants).

The team organized a pilot effort to test and demonstrate the link.


  • Conducted three legs of research, which identified the target metrics and behaviors for the pilot:
    • Reviewed more than 1,500 published studies to identify what has been proven to drive employee engagement in other organizations and the resulting business outcomes
    • Conducted interviews with the executives to understand which metrics they cared about most
    • Conducted a statistical linkage analysis between the company’s performance metrics and the employee survey data, which identified a set of behaviors that predicted productivity
  • Assessed individual departments to determine appropriateness for the pilot.
  • Designed a survey that measured employee perceptions of how well their team and leaders demonstrated those behaviors.
  • Organized a pilot in which departments were put into “control” and “experiment” groups. The control groups were left alone, while the experiment groups were treated with specific activity:
    • Manager training course and individual assessments.
    • Weekly peer study groups.
    • 1×1 coaching and action planning for unique team challenges.
    • Online community resource.


  • Identified and proved a set of leadership behaviors that have lead to increased employee engagement and productivity.
  • Built a survey tool with the business capability of predicting productivity performance at Northwestern Mutual.
  • Employee engagement scores increased in the experiment groups  (vs. control groups).
  • Productivity performance improved in the experiment groups (vs. control groups).
  • We proved our case – the CEO has made employee engagement one of his three priorities for the business. The company continues to invest in and expand on the work that was completed during the pilot.

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