You can look at employee advocacy and employee engagement as two siblings: they have a common origin, grow together, and even though they do different jobs, they are always there for each other.
Let me make this analogy a little bit more explicit.
Employee advocacy and engagement stem from the same place. Why? Because for both to exist, you need your employees to be comfortable identifying themselves with the company.
On the one hand, identifying oneself with the company may translate into advocacy — spontaneously (but also formally) sharing and promoting the company’s messaging externally. This is why you can easily make advocacy incentive-based, encouraging employees to act as loudspeakers of the company’s messaging: you can stimulate advocacy by promoting it internally, giving out rewards for the most active employees, etc.
On the other hand, such identification with one’s company can also manifest as engagement. This is harder to achieve because it requires one more element — that the employee stands firmly and wholeheartedly behind the company values and co-creates a culture with it. This is a much deeper identification, and it cannot really be encouraged by monetary incentives.
What drives engagement?
Engagement doesn’t just magically happen; it’s not born out of thin air – for it to exist there needs to be something. Something that stimulates it, something that makes employees want to go the extra mile for the company and work to achieve its goals. Something that makes employees believe in the company.
According to SHRM1, there are two drivers: organizational and managerial.
What it comes down to is identification and professional alignment.
Let me be clearer — on the one hand. Organizational drivers boil down to how much employees can identify with the organization's values and see themselves in their goals and culture.
An employee who feels valued as a person and as the most important resource in the company, who sees others (managers, colleagues, executives, etc.) hustling to make the company grow, and believes in the company’s mission is – or is on track to becoming – an engaged employee.
On the other hand, when it comes to managerial drivers, it all depends on professional alignment: does the company provide fertile ground for employees’ professional growth and development?
These range from feeling comfortable with the managers’ work ethics and how they make and communicate business decisions to being able to claim ownership of one’s work and work decisions.
Designing initiatives to generate engagement is challenging, and taking care that every employee feels not only satisfied with their work but also identifies with company values and culture enough to call themselves “engaged” is no walk in the park — a lot of conditions need to align for that to happen. There’s only so much you can do for it to grow organically.
The connection between advocacy and engagement
Sustaining effective engagement requires a lot of effort, which is why investing in employee advocacy can be an effective shortcut if you will.
You can look at advocacy as a gateway to ease people into initiatives that, with time, have the power to make employees feel more involved in company life, more appreciated, and ultimately engaged.
One way to have people try their hand at advocacy is by selling it internally as a series of tasks entailed in their roles within the company.
Often, employees might already be sharing company-related content online, so asking them to formally log into a platform that organizes and distributes content to share and interact with will not come as a shock to them.
Want to give them an extra incentive? Think of attaching additional perks or rewards to your campaigns. Consider putting a different spotlight on those who perform exceptionally well.
That gives you a double advantage: employees are more likely to be stimulated by friendly competition, and you’ll see at a glance who’s been most active by looking at the top contenders on your leaderboard.
By nurturing the relationship with the ambassadors — and especially the top contenders in the community — their involvement in the company’s advocacy program can gradually grow into engagement as people begin to feel not only their output but also their input is appreciated.
With time, you can count on the fact that your efforts will yield solid foundations to experiment with more interaction, asking for input rather than output and ultimately empowering them and giving them the tools to contribute to the growth and goals of the organization, which might then spark engagement.
The elements you focus on to grow advocacy in your company — trust, values alignment, recognition, and an emotional connection — are the same elements you focus on when building up and nurturing highly engaged employees.
Growing genuine engagement in a company can be one of the most significant challenges you’ll have to face, which is why advocacy, though different in purpose, can manifest itself as a great facilitator. Its threshold is just low enough to give change a chance.
In turn, by organically involving them in the organization’s course and decision-making, you can rest assured that, with the right nurturing, engagement will come as the natural consequence.
If you want to know more...