Dr Leandro Herrero
Employee engagement has grown as an industry in its own right, driven by the sub-industry of surveys and rankings. Somebody said that science advances by a series of funerals and, as far as I am concerned, employee satisfaction surveys are not feeling very well and deserve at least a dignified retirement, before it is too late.
But engagement refuses to go and has found ways to upgrade itself. People are now talking employee advocacy, or even employee activism, mixing up conceptually and practically very different things.
Recent pieces of research (a loose concept in the human capital business) and position papers by experts, are also using the term employee activism, perhaps because activism is on anybody’s TV screen these days.They have hijacked the term because it sounds powerful, but what they describe when they actually do, is at best employee advocacy.That usually means having your employees as advocates of the company, presumably overtly praising the good things in the outside world.
This is a noble aim, often developed and implemented in a naïve way. And internal communications can be caught in the fire, expecting these professionals to be the drivers of that advocacy. I have, for example, seen plans to provide materials and prompts for employees to be able to have conversations about those good things that the company does.
In a noticeable case that I remember from years ago, things backfired pretty easily and painfully.
A pharmaceutical company provided a toolkit for employees to show their great expenditure in R&D, all the sites and labs, all the billions spent in finding new medicines, and an overall justification for big prices for which profits could then be fed back to the R&D voracious machinery.They wanted employees to use that data to enter in conversations with anybody outside.
The numbers were impressive.You needed those multimillions and billions to be able to spend in R&D.What they forgot to mention is that the marketing and sales costs were at least twice as much than the R&D costs. So when somebody pointed out that if they spent less in the marketing and sales overgrown machinery, surely they would have more money to reinvest in the search for new medicines, the whole Internal Communications machinery collapsed and the advocacy programme faded quietly.
If internal communications is called to arms, it may be worth remembering a fundamental principal before embarking themselves upon a programme. I call it The Power of the Absent Programme.The best employee advocacy programme is the one that does not need to exist.When advocacy is unsolicited, spontaneous, as a sign of pride of working in a particular workplace, you don’t need a programme. You may need one when otherwise you would not have that advocacy. But then, you are always catering for something that you want to create, to install, perhaps force. Not impossible, but worth starting from this premise.
I have a cynical, highly heuristic and seldom wrong principle that when a company talks a lot about something, it is likely that they lack that something. A lot of talk about teamwork in the value system, makes me think that teamwork (unlike what it is often pretended) is probably weak. Strong team work companies don’t talk too much about it.They just do it. Employee advocacy is always a candidate for this as well...
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr Leandro Herrero is the CEO of The Chalfont Project, an international firm of organizational architects. He is the pioneer of Viral ChangeTM, a mobilizing platform which delivers large scale behavioural and cultural change in organizations.
He is the author of several books including Viral Change, the alternative to slow, painful and unsuccessful management of change in organizations’ and Homo Imitans, the art of social infection: viral change in action.
Dr Herrero is a psychiatrist who spent years in top global managerial roles in the UK and the US. He is a speaker on organizational challenges and writes a Daily Thoughts blog to a large community of followers.
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