It’s official – there’s good news for business leaders who believe that employee advocacy makes sense for their organizations:
"One in five of your employees is already speaking out publicly on your behalf – you just didn't realize it."
(Source: Weber Shandwick; Employees Rising: Seizing the Opportunity in Employee Activism; 2014)
But don't think that you can simply stand back and watch your advocacy program take root and flourish. You’re in for some hard work, and that’s just to keep those people onside. The other 80 percent? Listen and learn ...
Seeing Things From Your Employees’ Point of View
Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing Leslie Gaines-Ross, Chief Reputation Strategist for global PR agency Weber Shandwick. Leslie was in town with colleagues to showcase the findings of a major piece of research, Employees Rising: Seizing the Opportunity in Employee Activism. It was a fascinating and thought-provoking event, and one that touched on many of the issues associated with employee advocacy.
Some of the findings shocked me. Seen from the employee’s viewpoint, communication in even the best-managed organizations falls well short of what I believe most leaders expect. In organizations with more than 500 employees, the global survey of 2,300 people across all levels revealed that only four in ten “knew enough to explain to others what their employers do.”
Less than half of people in employment know what their company does? Seriously? That got me thinking ...
Like many commentators, my focus is typically on how employers can set employee-advocacy programs in motion for the benefit of their organizations. I pitch my work at leaders, would-be sponsors at C-suite level and potential advocacy champions. Yet Weber Shandwick’s research shows that the people who make or break these programs – the advocates themselves – don’t see things the same way.
In a recent LinkedIn discussion, Michael Bruny, previously Operations Manager at one of Intel’s manufacturing plants and a champion of the company’s employee brand-ambassador program, put it in a nutshell:
“I'm very interested in hearing more from the folks who are actually employee ambassadors. I don't think we hear their thoughts and perspectives enough.”
So what can we learn from employees that can make a difference?
Activism: Recognizing Unrest in the Workforce
Leslie was uncompromising: “Activism is explosive; forward-looking companies are [recognizing it and] starting do something about it.”
She was equally clear about what others should be doing.
“Employees are a company’s most competitive asset. Only those [organizations] that are engaged will make a success of advocacy.” A common thread was emerging, one which I explored in a previous article.
The Employees Rising report reveals that only 30 percent of employees feel deeply engaged with their employers. Most say that their leadership teams, senior management and direct supervisors don't communicate effectively – and it’s their line managers’ time that they appreciate most – in spite of the proliferation of technology and communication tools.
Conversely, as the report notes, nearly nine out of ten employees use at least one social-media site for personal communication; increasingly, employees use those channels to “air their likes and dislikes of their jobs, bosses and organizations.”
“While many employers are fearful that their employees will destroy their reputations with one easy click of a social media “share” button, the fact is that we now live in an always-connected-online world that is not going to reverse course.”
The implications for advocacy – and leadership in general – are massive.
Managing Workforce Activism for the Good of Your Organisation
Employee activists adopt one of six distinct personalities, according to the research. The one-in-five who already speak out on your behalf are ProActivists, explains Kate Bullinger, Weber Shandwick’s EVP, Employee Engagement & Change Management. These are the people you want on your team – highly engaged, entirely positive and extremely influential. ProActivists are people who take to social media to defend their employers against criticism without being asked; leaders should empower them and let others feed from their enthusiasm.
The good news is that an even greater number of your employees – more than a quarter – fall into the PreActivist category. These are people who take positive action more often than not, and who could, with encouragement, become ProActivists. Typically, they feel inhibited by their relative lack of social-media skills, but are open to being converted to your cause.
More than one-third of PreActivists say that say they would be “more inclined to use social media to share news and information about their work or employer if they were given easy-to-understand guidelines, access to social media at work or the right tools.” That sounds like an advocacy program to me – organizations should be investing time and effort into PreActivists, encouraging them to take the next step.
Not every category of activism is brimming with positivity; Detractors, for example, are highly distrustful of employer leadership and behave accordingly, says Kate. Critical to the success of your program is identifying the level of activism in each of your employees and managing them appropriately.
Kate cited Samsung’s “Discovery Starts Here” employee-ambassador program as having benefited from this approach. In 2013, Samsung identified 120 employee ambassadors from around the globe, each a ProActivist, tasked with sharing brand stories with other employees on a daily basis. The company considered this an essential step in driving its brand to become “an aspirational brand.”
As part of its work with global clients like Samsung, Weber Shandwick developed the Employees Rising Quiz, a handy online tool that classifies any employee within minutes; try it yourself – you may be in for a surprise.
Once you’ve done the analysis with your own people, time for the hard work I mentioned before ...
How to Drive Activism for Good?
Readers familiar with my earlier Beyond Engagement articles will recognize much of Kate’s five-point activation guide. Given the diverse nature of workforces around the world, mobilising employee activists doesn’t work on a one-size-fits-all basis; that said, there are common elements, without which no program will succeed. Try these for size:
• Embrace the new reality of Employee Activism. Leverage it for the good of your people and your organization.
• Activate from the top. The quality of your leadership is what matters most.
• Identify your workforce segments. Focus your energy where it will do most good.
• Flip the right activism switches. Attend to your igniters.
• Encourage Social. Have a clear plan and policy.
I can’t emphasise enough the need for strong leadership; this showed up as the single most important driver of positive employee activism. Employers that value employee ideas and opinions, offer trustworthy leadership and respond well to employees are those that achieve the status of being “good places to work.” Effective internal communication ran a close second – unsurprising, given the employee comments noted above.
I strongly encourage you to read the full report – for business leaders, the time will be a valuable investment. I’m still finding nuggets on third or fourth reading.
What Kind of Employee Activist Are You?
If you tried Weber Shandwick’s online tool, did the result surprise you? Have you experienced employee activism first-hand, whether as part of an advocacy program or not? Have you any tips for dealing with negativity? I really appreciate comments, so please don't hold back – share your experience with our readers.
Beyond Engagement is an exclusive Social Media Today column published every other Thursday.
Column logo by Marie Otsuka
Employees Rising: Weber Shandwick
The Workforce Activism Spectrum (Infographic - PDF): Weber Shandwick