It sounds obvious, but businesses are missing it: your employees are more important to the success of your company than you think. Our resident rock star Ted Rubin breaks down how you can build an environment that your employees can create, innovate and thrive in.
Employee advocacy isn’t just about having your employees post on their social channels about your brand. Empowering employees to be more than just mouthpieces for your brand is a way to go beyond advocacy—and benefit both your employees and your brand.
What do I mean by going beyond advocacy? In an earlier post I talked about empowering your employees through social media, so they can empower your brand. However, I think you can (and should) take it further. But how do you do this?
Involve them in planning your marketing strategy
For those of you who currently work on marketing teams, traditionally, the fourth quarter would come and the CMO would call his minions together. He would say, “Let’s put together our plan for next year.” The minions would base the plan almost 90% on last year, with a few tweaks here or there for new initiatives and change around the mix. The new plan would then be delivered to the CMO, who would get it approved by Christmas, then hit the road to talk about the company once it was implemented – but that’s not how it works any more. Now making up a plan is a lot more work (if you’re doing it right) because the plan evolves and changes every month. And who better to be a major part of that planning, whether it’s with input, sharing, discussion or conversation, than your employees?
Now here’s a real problem: most employees are afraid to speak their mind. I’m not just talking about sharing content or basic employee advocacy – I’m talking about creativity and innovation. We have to start a revolution in our work spaces to empower employees to think, share and create. For example, nobody has time to “just think” anymore. Nobody has time, or the inclination in most cases, to raise their hand and say, “That’s a bad idea” or “I have a great idea!” Think about your brainstorming sessions. One or two people give ideas and everyone else keeps their mouths shut. There are NO BRAINS STORMING. This dynamic must change.
“We have to start a revolution in our work spaces to empower employees to think, share and create.”
Don’t squash creativity
I think we would all be better served if we allowed ourselves to think like kids again—to create a mindset where we come together to think up great ideas. Think about this: have you ever gone to a children’s museum? When my kids were growing up, I belonged to the local children’s museum, and whenever it was a slow day, I brought my kids there. It’s a place that had all kinds of things to keep them motivated and innovated. Today we take creativity away from our kids. We smack it out of them by constantly telling them to “Use your inside voice”, or “Don’t talk that way”, or “When you’re with adults, speak like an adult!”
Too many times I witness the squelching of creativity and spontaneity out of our children. Why should a child speak like an adult? And in a way, we are doing the same thing to our employees. My absolute favorite place as a kid was the building blocks table. Even if you don’t have young children, take a trip to that children’s museum and watch the kids interact around the blocks. They sit around the table and come up with ideas. They work with each other to build things. It’s instinctual for them, and even if they attempt to build a bridge with no support and it comes tumbling down, they don’t say to each other, “You’re an idiot!” They say, “Let’s try it again!” This is how you want your employees behaving.
When I was a kid I used to try to dig to China when we went to the beach. My parents didn’t discourage me (thank God)! Every summer, even though the first attempt was unsuccessful, I was sure that eventually, if I dug deep enough, I would see a Chinese head appear out of the sand. Today I see parents deflate that sense of adventure. “Johnny… why are you trying to dig to China? Don’t you know that it’s X.X million miles to the other side of the earth? You’re never going to get there.”
Really? Is that the way you want your child to think? Is that the way you want your employees to think?
At some point we’ve got to start empowering our employees to think creatively and to know that their opinions are valued. Create an environment where there are no stupid ideas—just a lack of ideas. These are things we must start stressing in the workplace if we want to be rewarded with employee advocacy and innovation.
“I think we would all be better served if we allowed ourselves to think like kids again—to create a mindset where we come together to think up great ideas.”
Work on building a community within your brand
Here’s another thought. Your agencies are telling you that you need more people commenting on your social channels and that you should get your employees to comment on your channels. Well guess what? Every person today on social channels is inviting you to their living rooms and you’re not going! It’s unbelievable. You’re worried about customers not coming to your Facebook page when instead, you should be going to their page to see what’s happening and interacting with them.
How about doing that with your employees? How about being a manager who knows what your employees did over the weekend? You’re not being a creepy stalker. If they’re posting it on social channels, then you’re not interfering in their lives—they want you to see it. Today we don’t have a wall between personal and business. People want to know who they work with, who they’re buying from, who they’re dealing with. So start treating your employees like family and friends. I like to say that a network gives you reach, but a community gives you power. When you build a community within your company, and when you and your employees become a part of that team, that sharing, that thought process… you win. You cannot lose in a situation like that.
When someone asks me “What’s the ROI of social?” I ask them, “What’s the ROI of trust? What’s the ROI of loyalty?” It’s no different with your employees than it is with your consumers. Most companies now get the fact that they need to be more social and interactive with their consumers—that they’ve got to build relationships. They might not be doing it, but a conversation is happening within the company about the need for it. However, I’ve seen that this isn’t translating to employees. Everyone just takes them for granted. After all, they work here… that’s what they’re supposed to do, right? Wrong! You have to start valuing your employees even more than you value your consumers, because when you show them trust and loyalty, they will show it back to you.
“You have to start valuing your employees even more than you value your consumers, because when you show them trust and loyalty, they will show it back to you.”
There are some easy ways to do that. First, show that you value them by sharing their personal content. I say this all the time to companies regarding their consumers, and the same thing goes for employees. Don’t just share when they have said something about you. Share things about their family or about topics that interest them. Go to their social profiles and support them, even when it has nothing to do with your company. Believe me, they’ll notice that.
It’s about engaging, making a connection and building a relationship. And what better return on relationship can you get than from the people with whom you spend eight to 12 hours a day? Get to know these people. There is absolutely no excuse in this day and age for not knowing what they’re doing, for not caring about them or for not knowing about the events happening in their lives. It’s all there if you’ll just make the effort to look them up.
Another way to do it is to help make your employees experts and go-to resources for other people. This can include sharing expertise on business topics as well as personal topics. Provide great content for them to share about hobbies, parenting, traveling and vacations, family fun, etc., so they can be that trusted resource for their connections. A good example of this kind of success is VMware and Intercall—companies that have increased event registration by 30%, simply by empowering their employees to share.
Change your mindset
I think one of the biggest obstacles to overcome in employee advocacy, and it’s the same for consumer advocacy, is to start thinking about matching up those connections and conversations with opportunities for your employees to grow. It’s about creating the space and the environment for your employees to share, create and innovate, which shouldn’t be that complicated. I believe employee advocacy is most often a win for the brand, but it can be a much bigger long-lasting win, and truly empower employees, if executed to best advantage with employee benefit at the heart.