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Employee advocacy is sometimes portrayed as a kind of silver bullet that can support all kinds of organisational goals from strong sales to sustainable reputation. Kevin Ruck, a founding director of PR Academy, discusses the hard work organisations need to put in to ensure it’s genuine and believable, rather than something employees are expected to do and therefore inauthentic.


Trust in CEOs, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer, is declining and as a result of this employee advocacy is now becoming seen as the saviour of organisational reputation.

The suggestion is that if we supply employees with ready-made sound bites they will post them on their personal social media and this will enhance organisational reputation.

This simple and seemingly highly effective approach has been termed ‘megaphoning’ reflecting the amplification that a voluntary employee comment may have on corporate messages. Some commentators have even started to refer to employees as an organisation’s secret weapons.

However, as with many simple sounding solutions to complex issues, there may be a catch. An employee’s online friends are very likely to spot a pre-prepared message a mile off and see it for what it is; a manufactured rather than an authentic view. This could, unintentionally, have a negative effect rather than the hoped for positive, reputation enhancing, impact.

It is therefore worthwhile stopping to consider what the best approach is for employees to become advocates. The starting point for advocacy is to understand what communication employees expect and then to understand how this leads to organisational engagement. When employees are genuinely engaged with their organisation (which is different to being engaged with their work) they are more likely to voluntarily post positive comments in their own authentic words.

In this article I set out the components of a new AVID model of internal communication that can be linked to employees becoming avid supporters of their organisation.


AVID model of internal communication




The model comprises four elements: alignment, voice, identification and dialogue. These are explained in more detail in the following sections.


Alignment – line manager communication


The role of line managers in internal communication is often singled out as the most important part of the process. However, expecting line managers to relay corporate strategy to frontline employees when they often have little understanding of it themselves is a mistake. Employees want their line manager to focus primarily on team specific topics; their local operations and what is important that week or month. They expect any discussion of higher level corporate strategy to be put into a local context so that they can make the connection between what they do and how this contributes to overall organisational success.


Voice – systematic listening


Employee voice has a long history and has traditionally been associated with trade unions. It is now increasingly seen as a communication process that goes beyond formal negotiations with unions or consultations with work councils. In today’s social media world where we feel comfortable in rating products or services or commenting on them, employees expect to be given an opportunity to have a say about what goes on in their organisation. Many organisations provide regular opportunities for employees to express their views. However, employees do not always feel that what they say is being treated seriously. As one employee said to me recently, some managers ‘smile, but not with their eyes’. Embedding employee voice into internal communication activities in a systematic way where views are considered makes employees feel more valued and this has a very strong association with organisational engagement.


Identification – senior manager communication


The vast majority of employees want to know about their organisation’s plans for the future and they are also keen to know how the organisation is progressing. It is a myth that frontline employees are not interested in this – they are acutely aware that their own job security is dependent on the overall success of their organisation. In my research employees told me that they expect to get regular updates on progress and change from senior managers in person, at informal gatherings, not from their line manager. When senior managers take the time to talk to employees to explain what the organisation is doing, using plain conversational English, it helps to create a stronger identification with the organisation.


Dialogue


Contemporary internal communication practice remains grounded in news items and briefings for employees using a wide range of different channels. Although keeping employees informed is an important core internal communication function it should be seen as the basis for further dialogue, not ‘the be all and end all’ of practice. Keeping employees informed, through whatever channels work best for them in your organisation, is just the first stage of the internal communication process. It forms the context for conversations at line manager, middle manager and senior manager meetings or events where innovative suggestions, views, ideas and solutions can emerge that can then have a direct impact on organisational success.


Avid supporters


When employees feel well informed, when they have meaningful conversations with line and senior managers and when what they say is treated seriously they become avid supporters of their organisation. There is no shortcut to this. It comes from understanding employees and treating them as human beings, not weapons.


Kevin is the editor and co-author of the book Exploring Internal Communication. He is a regular speaker and author on all aspects of internal communication.

www.exploringinternalcommunication.com
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