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How long does employee advocacy last for?

How long do employees feel a sense of connection to an organisation for? Does it walk out of the door when they do?

What’s the reality of brand loyalty and advocacy? And what happens if a workforce doesn’t feel connected?

I spent a decade working in-house and still feel loyal to the brands and companies I worked for. From getting irked spotting old Visa logos to an incredible sense of pride walking through the East London line stations on the London Overground, it feels personal.

I wonder if professional communicators experience more of a connection because it’s our job to get inside the DNA of the organisation, so we can articulate it and ultimately live it?

I wrote Employee advocacy goes under the microscope in 2013 and featured my fellow Share This book author Philip Sheldrake. He wrote: “I described the relatively recent concept of employee advocacy in my last post as rather uncomfortable and somewhat forced, and I’ve been asked to qualify this description.

“Firstly, it’s worth stating the obvious – the aspiration that employees might advocate the employer is hardly a new idea. But this relatively new desire to go about it more systematically is prompted by employees’ increasing social media activity.

“While recommending an employer down the pub leaves no discernible trace, doing so online does, and that appears to have internal comms, HR professionals and social media types hot under the collar.

But here’s the rub. Genuine employee advocacy remains a consequence. That’s always been the case and will always remain so.

“You can’t insist. You can’t take control of employee social media profiles. You can’t pick out people for failing to advocate, not without creating the kind of culture that’s counter to employee advocacy.

“I’ll leave you to ponder whether you’re ready for a systematic approach to employee advocacy with the following diagrammatic polemic. It’s short on detail if only because I believe you’ll know in your gut, in your heart and in your mind whether you’re about to do something that’s “rather uncomfortable and somewhat forced”. Or not.”  – Philip Sheldrake @sheldrake, Partner, Euler Partners.

What are your views on this subject? As ever you’re welcome to comment below or Tweet me @AllthingsIC.

Further reading on my blog: How employee advocacy works using social media – published in 2016.

Rail family

Tonight I watched the next instalment of the excellent Fifteen Billion Pound Railway programme on BBC Two.

It’s documenting the construction of the Elizabeth line, formerly known as Crossrail. It’s a brand new TfL-run railway line under London and is due to start introducing new 7-carriage trains on the Liverpool Street to Shenfield route soon.

I live near a station in West London which will feature on the Elizabeth line. I’m looking forward to seeing the new service start in the near future and find the railway fascinating.

The line is named in honour of the Queen. She’s pictured below unveiling the name back in February 2016. On the far left of the photograph is my old Tube Lines CEO, Sir Terry Morgan CBE, who is now Chairman of Crossrail.

During my four-and-a-half years in the railway, both at Tube Lines, and as Head of Comms at London Overground Rail Operations Limited, advocacy was rife.

But was it for the railway or the company? I think it was the railway. Role engagement was high, but organisational engagement less so.

This is an important distinction and one internal communicators need to be mindful of, particularly as most organisational communication focuses on organisational rather than role engagement.

E.g. people may love being a train driver, a midwife or a teacher, but are they engaged with their role or with your company? What impact does that have in the way you communicate?

If I asked you, would you know who and what your employees are engaged with? And would you interchangeably use engagement and advocacy? That feels like another blog post. Hmm.

Linda Miller (no relation) is featured on Fifteen Billion Pound Railway. We worked together in my Tube Lines days and she’s an incredible role model.

I’ve enjoyed seeing her on screen and remember hearing her talk passionately to our 150-strong Senior Manager group at the monthly Senior Managers’ Meeting at Westferry Circus.

She ignited the room when speaking about an upgrade project we were conducting on the London Underground back in 2007.

Linda’s career includes serving as a paratrooper and helicopter pilot in the US army, an engineer on a new Cape Canaveral launch complex and latterly as Project Manager on the Crossrail project. She’s now over the other side of the globe, helping build the Sydney Metro project, lucky them!

Watching her on screen brought back lots of fond memories of my railway days.

I particularly remember seeing the Class 378 trains being built at Bombardier in Derby in 2009, which now operate on the London Overground.

I think there will always be a part of me that is linked to the railway. It’s full of skilled engineers and people who have given their life’s work to creating infrastructure and services to be proud of.

It’s not without faults, but show me an industry that isn’t! It’s also where I met my husband, so maybe that’s part of its eternal appeal for me.

Watching the show tonight (you can catch it on iPlayer if you’ve missed any of this or last series), it made me think about the employees and contractors working on the Elizabeth line. They’ll have stories to tell and will no doubt feel a sense of pride watching such an important transport link spring to life because of their efforts. Well done to everyone involved.

What are your views on the subject of advocacy and brand loyalty?

As ever you’re welcome to comment below or Tweet me @AllthingsIC.

Thank you for stopping by,

Rachel

Post author: Rachel Miller

First published on the All Things IC blog 29 May 2017.

Photo credits: TfL.

Comments

  1. Mike Klein says:

    I think it’s a combination. I still have a passion for easyJet where I led the comms for its integration of Go Airlines 14 years ago, which was the best job I ever had. Other companies I was an advocate for when I was there, but both me and them have moved on. Being a company advocate can also reflect a desire to draw attention to one’s connection to an important project or a prestigious organization as well as wanting to attract new customers and peers.

  2. […] advocacy can’t be magically created through a process. I agree with Rachel Miller and Philip Sheldrake who say that ultimately employee advocacy is a consequence.  It will be a consequence of how the […]

  3. […] advocacy can’t be magically created through a process. I agree with Rachel Miller and Philip Sheldrake who say that ultimately employee advocacy is a consequence.  It will be a consequence of how the […]

  4. Judy Gombita says:

    I keep asking consultants who like to promote employee “advocacy” (sic) programs to show me reputable, mainstream media articles on such programs. As of yet, no one has been able to point me to anything other than a trade publication or a white paper sponsored by a (related) vendor company.

    That is because “advocacy” and “advocates” relate to “a person who speaks or writes in support of some cause, argument or proposal.”

    It does not relate to the staff of corporate entities. And it does not relate to expecting all staff to perform as marketers, no matter what is the role they were hired to do. Perhaps there are some rare exceptions in the charitable and/or NGO field, where an “advocate” for that particular cause (say autism or better access to legal representation) is hired on to staff. But that is not the norm.

    I would suggest the marketers and internal communicators and HR folks move away from misusing the term and switch to something more reflective of the actual role–brand champions or employee ambassadors, etc., because “employee advocacy” does NOT pass the social sniff test…..

  5. Thanks for your comment Judy. Have you seen Dr Kevin Ruck’s work in this field and his AVID model for employee advocacy from a few years back? http://www.exploringinternalcommunication.com/tag/employee-advocacy/. I think there’s a need for clarity, particularly around the language, I’m seeing these terms increasingly added into the mix of employer brand, employee experience and/or amplification.

  6. Judy Gombita says:

    Rachel, Kevin Ruck is well aware of my feelings about the word (which I believe mirror his). If you go to the end of that article you cited, there is this paragraph:

    This summary is based on the input of 11 participants. A more in depth discussion of employee advocacy can be found in a 2014 PR Conversations blog.

    And link to this post: http://ow.ly/k9Os30ccvCe (where Kevin gets the last “subject expert’s” word)

  7. Patrick Fletcher says:

    Hi Judy and Rachel, I’m (maybe) doing a Masters dissertation on employee advocacy. I’ve put a proposal in and I’m waiting to see what comes back. If I do end up doing it, it’ll start either in autumn this year or spring 2018. Either way your comments are useful food for thought. Thanks.

  8. Judy Gombita says:

    Interesting to hear that Patrick Fletcher, as I would think that a master’s level thesis would need some robust research and qualitative measurement related to such a program. As I stated earlier, I’ve seen zero mainstream media coverage regarding staff engaged in “advocacy” for their employer. Nor have I seen any real research, only puff marketing pieces from vendor companies and consultants who specialize in this “offering.”

    If you were doing your thesis on employee champions or brand ambassadors, you might have more luck, as those words (and concepts) don’t pretend that companies are causes. Plus there are some documented case studies, particularly from an HR point of view (i.e., existing or former staff encouraging the company as a great place to work). Think of proud (current or past) “IBM’ers.”

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