How Should Professional Services Firms Create and Implement an Employee Advocacy Program?
I am often asked for a how-to-guide to create an employee advocacy program as I have implemented several for professional services firms. It was an honor to join
Jay Harrington and Tom Nixon of Harrington Communications earlier this month on their podcast, The Thought Leadership Project, to discuss marrying thought leadership and employee engagement. In creating any employee advocacy program, two important takeaways are that thought leaders are cultivated by employers who train, mentor and encourage employees. Second, the culture must support those individuals who are so invested in your firm to be your strongest advocates, and, ultimately, as your brand ambassadors.
What is Employee Advocacy in a Professional Services Environment?
First and foremost, it is necessary that everyone in your organization has the same definition of what employee advocacy means. Defined, an employee advocacy program is the promotion of a firm or organization by its employees. While a firm may ask its employees to engage in ‘social sharing,’ the most compelling employee advocacy program is one of authenticity, whereby your employees are so engaged in the firm or organization that they feel personally involved and compelled to promote it.
Based on my experience, in addition to setting top-level guidelines for employees, here are six tips to help you get underway.
1. Make Sure Your Culture Will Support it. In order to execute an employee advocacy strategy, your employees need to be supported beyond basic tools and training. Employees require an understanding of how their respective roles integrate into the strategic plan of the firm or respective practice group or service line. Sharing your firm or organization’s strategy internally will help employees to understand the future direction of your organization.
2. Pilot and Find Your Community. Start with a pilot program. Remember, this is about cultivating and nurturing employees who have an interest in spending the time to help elevate your firm or organization’s profile. Choose an industry or service line where you are currently in the process of practice expansion because there are specific outside drivers (regulatory, technological, economic) that will have a potential impact on your clients in the not too distant future. Your employees can center conversations and engage in dialogue that helps to showcase their individual and unique perspectives. The easiest way for employees to do this is to find and identify audiences where they can add to existing conversations about some of these drivers. If no conversation exists, employees can create and serve as the original source. Overall, while you should have guidelines for your firm or organization, your employees’ perspectives will be most valuable if you ensure the process is ‘owned’ by the employees.
3. Be Ahead of the Curve. In your pilot program, one of the important components of mentoring your employees is helping to show that timing/delivery of your unique perspectives matter. The most compelling employee advocacy programs are ones that emphasize thought leadership – putting out something that is dated or regurgitated from another source will not help to elevate your brand. As a baseline, add a unique perspective.
4. Polarity. Joining thought leadership with employee advocacy means that you stay focused and build out long-term goals. You must remember that it is o.k. to have a different opinion in the marketplace and that not everyone is going to agree or provide positive feedback. The greatest thought leaders and employee advocates are built on those who can focus on the 'long-game.'
5. Include Offline as Well as Online. In addition to a firm or organization’s digital presence, it is important to extend employee advocacy to in-person events and the community.
6. Measurements and Recognition. Lastly, determine what metrics matter most to your firm or organization. It might be based on website metrics, number of direct opportunities tied to campaigns or revenue. Since employees ultimately drive an advocacy program, you can create different types of rewards. These may range from added resources to tools to make digital sharing easier to various awards and recognition. Ultimately, I have found the most successful employee advocates primarily need one thing-to feel included in the future success of your firm or organization.
For more information, please listen to the podcast here: http://bit.ly/2NJWhXe