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Employee Advocacy: Unleash the People Leader Advantage

A great employee advocacy program can have tremendous impacts for your employer brand, employee engagement and overall reputation as an organization. Companies that do employee advocacy well report higher retention rates, greater employee satisfaction and a much easier time recruiting people who really connect with their vision, purpose and culture.

That’s because employee advocacy is essentially a modern-day version of word-of-mouth marketing. One of the most powerful principles of influence is “Social Proof”. When people notice that their peers approve of something or are engaging in a behaviour, it serves as an endorsement. It’s a stamp of approval. When your employees are enabled and empowered to genuinely and authentically talk about what they love about your organization publicly, their peers in the industry will take notice, form positive associations and be more inclined to explore further.

a motivational people leader in action
People Leaders are essential to ensuring the success of employee experience strategies.

A successful employee advocacy program that effectively leverages social proof doesn’t happen overnight or by accident. The key ingredients are:

  • A great culture (give the people something to advocate for)

  • An activated Employee Value Proposition (a framework and tools for communicating)

  • An Engagement Plan (know who, why and how you are enabling advocates)

  • Support from leadership (this will take some time and capacity - you need leaders to sponsor the program)

All told, an employee advocacy program should take 3- to 6- months to develop, 8-weeks to implement and be sustained on a rolling 12-month calendar with quarterly check-points. 

The People Leader Dilemma

A key element of employee advocacy that many organizations miss is to engage and communicate with people leaders (PLs) at the organization. Program leads typically get a ‘green-light’ from senior leadership to go ahead with employee advocacy. They send a perfunctory email notice to PLs letting them know some of their employees may be invited to participate and leave it at that. This is not enough!

PLs are one of your most critical strategic audiences when it comes to launching a successful employee advocacy program.

They can either act as major de-railers, or your biggest champions depending on how they are engaged. The hard truth is, when it comes to any employee experience program, PLs often get left behind and feeling marginalized. If you don’t invite PLs into the design process, it can lead to a lot of misunderstandings and miscommunications. PLs can feel like they are tasked with the team’s productivity and held accountable for delivery, and various employee engagement and experience initiatives are taking time away from the critical business matters. Here are some of the standard complaints we hear from PLs about employee advocacy programs, before they are brought into the design and development process:

  • “My team barely has enough time to complete their daily workload, and now they’re expected to get on social media and spend time creating content. That’s not feasible!”

  • “The employees on my team have all these questions about what they are allowed to post and not allowed to post for this new program and I have no idea how to answer them”

  • “I don’t understand what this employee advocacy program is about. How is this supposed to help us be a better team?”

These are all valid concerns! It’s the program leads’ responsibility to address them. When properly addressed and engaged in the process, PLs can support employee advocates in the right ways, which always leads to a stronger program and better results. 

What’s The Solution?

When creating an employee advocacy program, you need to build a People Leader Engagement Strategy that runs alongside the employee component. It should include elements of demystifying the topic of employee advocacy and creating targeted educational experiences. The PL Engagement Strategy should also break down the capacity and resources required to effectively execute on an Employee Advocacy Program. Lastly, it should set PLs up as supporters, mentors and guides for the passionate employees who will be taking part in amplifying the company through personalized culture narratives.

3 Steps to Creating a People Leader Engagement Strategy:

  • Level-Set Capacity and Commitment: Proactively mitigate objections by addressing the question of ‘how much time will this take?’ upfront. Consider making this more of a co-creation and not a one-size-fits-all approach. Every team is different and has diverse needs in terms of resources and capacity. Thus, their ability to commit to engagement activities will look different. Engage PLs to tell you what an ideal situation would look like, how much time in the calendar they can spare and go from there. Employee advocacy can happen with as little as 15-minutes per week. Decide with the PLs what is feasible - how structured should the time be? How much support will the employees need? Set clear parameters around time and expectations in partnership with PLs, instead of deciding amongst the project team and communicating it out to PLs.

  • Educate on the Benefit of Employee Advocacy: In order to be a supporter of the program, PLs must understand they why of it all. When PLs can connect employee advocacy to tangible outcomes, like engagement, attraction and employee growth, they will be much more likely to be active allies for the program and provide employees with the necessary support. Share with PLs that employee advocates become more passionate and engaged with their work. They can help bring great talent into the organization. It’s also an incredible opportunity for exposure, advancement and growing an influencer-skillset. Work with PLs so they can really grasp how powerful advocacy really is. 

  • “Coach the Coach”: An integral part of the role of PLs is to coach, mentor, guide and lead their employees. Alongside the training for employee advocates, develop a training program for PLs that teaches them how to support their employees to be champions for culture. Some of the modules will include tips for creating a space for advocacy in a weekly work schedule, giving employees the freedom of expression to tell their story, amplifying employees voices and engaging in ideation with employees to create new content. Check out Drift’s Immersive Learning Experience that will help you develop this program for People Leaders, specifically for culture champions and employee advocates.

The moral of the story: Don’t leave PLs behind in your employee engagement and experience efforts! It’s critical to ensure they feel like they are playing an active role in embedding the EVP in culture, through all employee-facing initiatives - employee advocacy included. You can sustain this effort by holding quarterly checkpoints and with PLs to talk about how your initiatives are performing, seek feedback from PLs and strengthen your employee experience strategy.

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