If you're presently reflecting on your achievements during the past 12 months and wondering what 2015 has in store, you're not alone. Planning for the year ahead, whether on a personal level or on behalf of a larger organization, is essential if you want to make the most of your time, energy and resources.
As I remind myself every year, nothing is permanent except change - a sentiment originally attributed to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who lived around 2,500 years ago. Yet leaders everywhere face a common problem; employees typically view change with suspicion, leading to resistance "that manifests itself in many ways, from foot-dragging and inertia to petty sabotage to outright rebellions," according to Professor Rosabeth Moss Kantor of Harvard Business School.
Business leaders or organizational heads who have "employee advocacy" on their to-do lists for 2015 take note - you have no right to expect your people to welcome your initiatives with open arms. Effective change management is essential for success.
Why Do Business Initiatives Fail?
In their 2011 book Beyond Performance: How Great Organizations Build Ultimate Competitive Advantage, McKinsey senior partners Scott Keller and Colin Price conclude that "more than 70 percent of organizational-change failures are driven by ... negative employee attitudes and unproductive management behavior."
Since, in the majority of cases, employee attitudes are directly dependent on management behavior, successful leadership teams have the power in their own hands to influence both factors positively. And don't make the mistake of believing that a lack of negativity is good enough; good people are ready to vote with their feet at the first sign of management incompetence.
That, by the way, starts at the top. When change is imposed, it rarely has the desired effect, and employee advocacy is no different. People need to be convinced of the benefits before they commit to participating, and that means senior management setting the example and bringing internal activists on board.
Who Exactly Are Internal Activists?
Leaders need to connect with those who McKinsey describes as "internal influencers." These are "people other employees look to for input, advice, or ideas about what's really happening in a company." These "below-the-radar" individuals rarely feature in traditional organization charts, and often provide a powerful means of bringing a campaign to life.
McKinsey suggests using "snowball sampling" - a simple, anonymous process - to identify internal influencers who not only assist during the planning stages but also play a major part in the successful implementation of an advocacy program. McKinsey rightly believes that "changes made with the support of these influential employees are vastly more likely to succeed in the long run than changes delivered from on high."
Which brings me back to an earlier Beyond Engagement article that reviewed Weber Shandwick's Employees Rising study; one in five of your employees is already speaking out publicly on your behalf - so if you aren't engaging with them, you're missing a major opportunity.
"Change is Invited"
I'm drawing heavily on McKinsey here - in a recent piece titled Build a Change Platform, Not a Change Program, we see "the advantage of social technologies that make large-scale collaboration easy and effective." That sounds like employee advocacy to me.
I'm particularly encouraged by the assertion that an effective change platform "encourages individuals to take personal responsibility for initiating the change they want to see and give them the resources and tools necessary to spur their thinking and imaginations." But it won't happen without the wholehearted support of senior management - and that means the C-suite devoting serious time and effort to creating the right environment.
As I've said before, employee advocacy isn't an objective, it's an outcome. Take your people through the change curve; involve them in the research, the planning and the implementation. You'll kill the suspicion and the fear of the unknown and get them sharing the message because they're part of it.
Invitations come in all shapes and sizes; there's no universal recipe for connecting with your people. Employee "pulse" surveys are increasingly popular and operate on a basis that's close to real time; take a look at this article by Leslie Gaines Ross exploring the value of one-question weekly polls that not only give honest feedback but also allow employees to call out colleagues who deserve special mention.
By now, you've probably realized that employee advocacy isn't something you can simply roll out at the drop of a hat. Unless you already involve your people in things that matter to them, encouraging buy-in from an early stage, you're facing an uphill struggle. Now's the time to revisit your thinking ...
Have You Got the Right People On Board?
Maybe you're considering the benefits of an employee-advocacy program; do you know your internal influencers? Have you convinced your people of the value of your initiative - not only to the organization, but to individuals? Are they ready for change? If you've grappled with the problem of employee resistance, we'd like to hear about it - whether you succeeded in overcoming it or not. Share your experience with us by leaving a comment or getting in touch directly.
Beyond Engagement is an exclusive Social Media Today column published every other Thursday.
Column logo by Marie Otsuka
Barriers to Organizational Change by Scott Keller and Colin Price, Beyond Performance: How Great Organizations Build Ultimate Competitive Advantage: John Wiley & Sons, 2011