CONNECTING EMPLOYER BRAND WITH EMPLOYEE ADVOCACY – Roundtable Report
12 June 2019 London
Radisson Blu Bloomsbury
In the past, how an organisation operated – its ethics, culture and values – hardly mattered to customers, providing the product lived up to expectations. Similarly, employees never contemplated whether their employer was operating ethically, providing they were paid the right amount and on time. Unquestionably, that perception and mindset has changed 100 percent.
Ann Brown, Global HR Director – Euronav
Rob Coyne, General Manager EMEA – Hootsuite
Heather Gallagher, HR Manager – Atlas Copco
Matt Handford, Senior Vice President of People – Hootsuite
Rebecca Hone, Head of People Transformation – Bupa International Market
Beena Joseph, Director HR – Wisdomtree
Brian Newman, VP HR – Live Nation Entertainment
Claire Norburn, Senior Employer Brand & Talent Attraction Manager – Tsb
Claire Palmer, VP Human Resources – Bacardi
Samantha Park, Head of Marketing – Aliaxis
Lisa Porter, Western Europe Hr Operations Director – Excelian
Paul Smith, Group HR Director – Outdoor & Cycle Concepts
Samantha Tame, Executive Director HR – Morgan Stanley
Danielle Verge, HR Director – Aliaxis
WHAT IS EMPLOYEE ADVOCACY? WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOUR ORGANISATION, AND DO YOU CURRENTLY RUN AN ADVOCACY PROGRAMME?
Claire Palmer: Our business has succeeded thanks to having advocacy at the forefront. We would like each person to serve as an ambassador for the company and we encourage people to share their experiences of what Bacardi life is like. It’s about more than work, it’s about loving what we do. For us, the family connection is such a big part of our culture, and we have a strong advocacy team which leads the conversations with the trade and customers. While “advocacy” may not be part of everyone’s official job title, we do help all our people be influencers, storytellers… and cocktail enthusiasts.
Claire Norburn: We’ve been on a real journey with TSB. We set up following a divestment from Lloyds back in 2014, so we’ve had the unique situation of building a business, almost from start-up, but with the benefit of established people and processes. Consequently, we’ve focused on developing a different culture to that of other financial services companies. We wanted everyone to feel a key part of the business, to feel like it was their business. We renamed our people ‘Partners’, and made a decision, which was quite radical in financial services, to change our annual bonus scheme, from one driven by grade, to a scheme where all Partners work towards the same on-target bonus, as a percentage of salary. We also stepped away from sales targets, reinforcing how important our customers are, so that we can really understand and satisfy their needs. Partners really are behind this, which is evidenced through some fantastic engagement results.
Paul Smith: What does employee advocacy mean? I think for me it really means people in your organisation who genuinely live and breathe the culture of the business. That then needs to resonate throughout the organisation, both in terms of who our customers are and really having a mutual empathy with them. We talk a lot about our DNA and about being passionate about the outdoors and that in itself defines who we are as a business. That’s our strategic intent, and it flows through everything we do from an employee advocacy proposition. We’ve hardwired it into our overall strategy, in terms of the symmetry between our employees and customers.
Rebecca Hone: Of course, a large part of the BUPA workforce are healthcare professionals, but my area, the financial services and insurance section of the business is smaller, obviously highly regulated, and so it can be harder to win “hearts and minds” when it comes to connecting with the product. But where BUPA services were brought in as a part of the EVP as with the UK PMI business, at the last senior leadership event featured employee advocates that had benefited from the healthcare services talked about their positive personal experiences, and that was very compelling advocacy.
Heather Gallagher: We are global, but decentralised. So, initiatives such as this are equally decentralised, and people have a lot of autonomy. We’re lucky to have a strong brand and values, a family culture – even with 35,000 employees – however, similarly, we don’t have the connection with the product. Our product is a piece of industrial equipment and whilst we don’t have any concerns about what people might share, I think we need to build the confidence to build some momentum of having content and conversations about what we do. In this instance, I do like the idea of rewarding or recognising those who are really advocating positively, particularly when reaching to new audiences, whether that be potential customers or recruits.
Ann Brown: Euronav is an oil tanker company and for us, advocacy is about having the most responsible brand in the maritime world, particularly around safety, environmental responsibilities, quality of vessels, and quality of lifestyle. We take crew safety very seriously, and advocacy means we have a shared responsibility for safety with our crews and encourage our teams to look out for each other. For us it’s about supporting our crew, training people in mental wellbeing, health and safety, and having online employee systems and programmes which are multi-language, multi-cultural and available all of the time. That is increasingly a really important part of our business. We use measures that give us the ability to tell what the “mood on board” is like and each vessel can be benchmarked against each other.
Beena Joseph: We acquired a business in April last year, which doubled the number of employees overnight. There were a lot of similarities in the cultures and we worked to keep the best of both businesses, in terms of working practices. We’ve brought in flexible working, working from home and we want to encourage more women, more parents into the business, as there’s a skills shortage in the asset management industry and these are valuable hires.
Brian Newman: We have lots of people who are passionate about live music, so there is an inherent level of advocacy with that. We are a collection of brands and have a variety of businesses, so we have to be careful not to try to over-stamp “Corporate” on top of things that our business leaders have created. We highly value entrepreneurial spirit, so we have to think slightly differently about the ways we approach that. We have a global programme which centres on ‘taking care of our own’. So, if one of our people need help, we’ll try and provide that for them, whatever it may be. We don’t mandate this or run it through a formal programme, but we have leaders focused on the importance of this personal support and provide funding where needed. We’ve found this incredibly impactful for our people, and also local leadership feel empowered to do something, to step in and help colleagues when needed.
Lisa Porter: It’s where HR can really add value, but we need to tie it into a business need, because our culture is that no activity is undertaken unless it’s measured. Employee advocacy began with improving on attrition, which has enabled leadership to measure impact against spend.
Samantha Park: I think we already have the building blocks of an advocacy programme. At its most basic level, if you’re proud of what you do, that shines out to customers, so I believe that we already have true advocates of the business.
Danielle Verge: If I used the word advocacy around the leadership table, they’d not necessarily recognise what I was talking about. However, if I spoke about culture, and “the mood of the ship”, that’s language which resonates. Safety is our number one priority, and in this frame, culture of behaviour is everything, so that is a steady foundation on which to build advocacy.
Matt Handford: Employees who are connected with the culture are the best storytellers, but you have to start with a certain authenticity and then what drives this on is education and building expertise, increasing people’s brand and reach, which builds the story. Diversity and inclusion is hugely important topic for us. It’s about creating inclusive environments and being transparent is at the centre of out employer brand. One example is we’re starting to blend in specifically tailored content with individual stories, to educate people on diversity and inclusion.
Rob Coyne: I think we all agree there’s a place for employee advocacy, this is the reason we are together today. It can address some fantastic challenges, but also represents a great opportunity. But it can’t just be around brand amplification. We talk about the three Es; “exceptional employee experience”, but it can’t all be about vanity metrics either, it’s got to be about real business outcomes – whether that’s revenue, community engagement, or collaboration between global teams across languages, there is a massive impact for the customer. If you have an exceptional employee experience, the customers buy into that, and they will do the selling for you. When it comes to employee advocacy content, we talk about “EGC”, which is, employee generated content, and we find that the most successful programmes are when you cut employees loose. There are challenges, particularly for regulated industries, but risk and security aren’t really the issue, because policies and tech can mitigate against that. Moreover, its cultural and philosophical, in cutting people loose and having the confidence in the processes and tech in place, to make sure that that content is being captured and curated in a way that is exceptional.
Brian Newman: People know what’s instinctively right and we try and operate with cultural guidelines on the sorts of things that are going to be more difficult for people to deal with, by having open conversations about this across the business. Social media moves fast so it’s always a live debate.
Claire Norburn: We have partners across our business involved in some fantastic activities both personally and in their careers and in their communities. So for us it’s about having people to share their great stories on social media. Working in a business that’s been through a challenging time, it makes partners nervous about saying things externally about who they work for. So, we’re developing a programme to increase confidence in some key social channels, helping partners understand the type of content that’s ok and great to share.
Paul Smith: What’s really important is “cultural self-regulation”. The type of people that are successful in our business and stay are those who have a sense of what the business is about and that kind of regulates itself. An example is, from a social media point of view, all of our store managers – 143 in the UK stores – manage their own Facebook pages and social media accounts, and we allow them to do that. So it kind of self-manages itself. I think that’s really important to have that set up, because you can’t control everything.
Rob Coyne: Sustainability is key, so the content has to be delivered in the right way. You have to refresh and constantly innovate – that’s one of the biggest challenges in an advocacy scheme. Ann Brown: On an oil tanker, international maritime law means that once you’re in international waters, each vessel is a kingdom and the ultimate responsibility rests with the master to set the rules and enforce discipline. In that world, they are hugely creative about how they engage, both the people on the ship and ashore. Every ship has an apprentice onboard, and it’s part of the heritage of raditional line management that the apprentices write a daybook.
Claire Palmer: We talk about freedom in a framework as well, we give people the guidelines, the etiquette and then allow them the freedom to post, share and be creative. I am always amazed by the great content, and the impact that this can have in creating connections with other offices, our industry and consumers.
Matt Handford: We gave 45 people from across the business access to Amplify, our employee advocacy tool and we incentivised them for two years. We said, “For a two-year commitment back to us, we’re going to have monthly seminars from experts coming in from social media to build our brand, through good content and effective writing,”. What was in it for the employees was an incredible amount of learning. Their own brands were going to be influencer-status. We also applied gamification to our employee advocacy programme. We gave our employees leader boards of posts. For this sort of activity, you must have leadership involved. Our CEO, for example balances controversial and uncontroversial posting, and he pushes the boundaries and really encourages his leaders to do that as well.
SOME BUSINESSES WOULD PERCEIVE EMPLOYEE ADVOCACY ON SOCIAL MEDIA AS A LEAP OF FAITH. HOW DO YOU OVERCOME THIS TO TURN PEOPLE INTO ADVOCATES OF ADVOCACY?
Brian Newman: If it looks too corporate, people switch off, we therefore focus on content driving relevance, and tap into the sorts of stories that people want to share. Personally, I also think there’s some really bad user experiences that try to be like Facebook but just aren’t. I think that’s why employee-driven content is the gift in all of this, because it’s constant, relevant and far less likely to be boring. But there is the risk of thousands of pictures of cats lying in hammocks.
Rob Coyne: Technology is over-complicated by humans – trying to deploy technology and then expecting users to jump on board, well it just doesn’t happen. So, having clarity is essential, and the point about self-generating content is, it can be as raw as you like, it doesn’t have to be polished Hollywood production.
HOW CAN YOU FIND THE RIGHT BALANCE BETWEEN UGC, INSPIRATIONAL, CORPORATE, BRANDED AND THOUGHT LEADERSHIP?
Matt Handford: Technology plays two really important roles. One is to accelerate reach and to meet business objectives more quickly. Tech also manages the front end of the content strategy – the cat videos is an amusing example – you have to maintain a clear business direction for the organisation and that balance between business and personal is essential.
Paul Smith: Thought leadership is about understanding who you are as a business culturally, what your proposition is commercially, and how you maintain that consistency in terms of how you bring people with you on the journey to combine customer service and sales together. When you’re in our world the correct balance is critical. That’s where authenticity plays a key role, not just going for commercial sales come what may, but winning customer trust through good advice, which then wins loyalty.
Claire Palmer: Yes, authenticity is everything. Bacardi remains family-owned after seven generations and story-telling and sharing really is a part of the family culture, so it’s like sharing family stories generation after generation. Rebecca Hone: Senior leaders posts are full of two main subjects – the healthcare & care homes, and advice and advocacy for well-being, mindfulness and mental health. But the annual focus on “Bupa week” is a strong example of employee engagement and Yammer/social media coming together. An agreed hashtag #together was used and inspired all sorts of individuals and teams to spend time together, recording it in photos and sharing it. There was a buzz and it was successful, but we could do more over the rest of the year.
Brian Newman: It’s about publicity, and HR would do well to partner with the marketing experts in their firms, so it becomes much more readable and consumable. I think sometimes as an HR professional trying to do all things really well can be a little dangerous in trying to creating the same experience that people have when they use social media personally.
Lisa Porter: Agreed, and maybe the point is to let go a little, because we do see things through the HR spectrum of ‘who’s going to sue us’?
Beena Joseph: On that subject, we do have strict policies around social media, everything needs to be approved by compliance. We do a lot of interesting things that can showcase the company and build employee advocacy. However, I am not completely sure that the glossy social media completely translates into the day-to-day culture of a company.
Brian Newman: If it’s ‘too’ glossy it can become a inauthentic and may not entirely reflect the real working lives of people – again, it’s where I look to marketing for guidance. Raw videos shot on someone’s iPhone doing something unique or amazing or just personal, can be really powerful.
Ann Brown: My experience is, you might think you can regulate social media but actually you can’t, and things will catch you out. You need to be prepared to manage the consequences and make the rules clear. Brian Newman: That also speaks to anything that’s too top down, if it’s not being validated by the wider organisation.
Paul Smith: It’s about shaping what you want strategically, but making sure it’s not over-corporate. Rob Coyne: Has anyone linked any comp or promotions with using social generating content, driving content or maybe their SSI score on LinkedIn?
Lisa Porter: We’ve just launched a programme where people receive reward points every time they publish on our company intranet.
Paul Smith: I guess that’s where the thought leadership comes in, we have to drive a pathway in terms of what is the central core of the organisation. So, even if the organisation itself is quite diverse, like a services provider for example, where I guess the challenge is to find what is the core of that business, and there will be one there somewhere, whether it’s really compelling and clear or whether it’s something that has to be created, that gives people a sense of purpose and a sense of gravitation. Otherwise, there’s loads of content written in terms of how important purpose is for people to be effective and perform and so on. So, whatever that purpose is, you just need to find a way of creating it. I think HR has a really big role to play in that in terms of provoking that discussion at the board table, and indeed across the business.
Claire Norburn: Our challenge is less content driven and more partner confidence. We need to help them become more active and develop an external voice. Our focus is on upskilling people and making it acceptable and easy to share life. One area we’re looking at is creating brand ambassadors and parcelling up content that has been approved, that they can choose to dip into and share.
Rob Coyne: Being a B2B or B2C business is now irrelevant. We talk B2E, which is B to everything. So, whether consumers or businesses, this has a value in terms of amplifying your brand, having employees on board with it and just enjoying the business benefits of having such a cohesive strategy and holistic view of what you’re trying to achieve as a business.
Claire Norburn: This is where being clear about your objectives and working closely with marketing is important, and having clear employer brand objectives. But to deliver them, people need to sit in with the wider brand picture and strategy. What I’ve found is that those two things can be quite different, in terms of the key messages for customers or potential employees, but they do need to be closely aligned. The wider brand purpose is fundamental in attracting candidates, but you need to have clear employer brand messaging in amongst the narrative, recognising candidates’ hierarchy of needs, plus the role, team, style of working, reward and culture.
Matt Handford: We have just created an employee experience channel which is a hashtag called “#hootsuitelife”, and we’ve reduced the rules, so that people feel comfortable with posting content about their lives and leisure pursuits. This allows a lot more freedom on what can be posted. To me, that’s the transparent wall, where you can go online and see thousands of pieces of content for any of our global offices and it provides a great sense of colleagues’ lives across the world.
Claire Norburn: We’re doing something very similar with #proudtobetsb. Brian Newman: We value the power of community and the democracy that comes with our executives thinking of themselves also as employees, versus them being the business and everybody else the employees. There’s real power in a global community, because they’re problem-solving across markets and cultures, they’re collaborating around business issues they need to solve. I think this is an amazing power of social media.
WHAT POLICIES AND GUIDELINES NEED IMPLEMENTING SO THAT EMPLOYEES ARE CONFIDENT AND AWARE OF THE PARAMETERS OF CONSTRUCTIVE MESSAGES AND COMMUNICATING THEM? HOW CAN YOU ENSURE THAT A PROGRAMME IS COMPLIANT WITH REGULATIONS?
Claire Palmer: It’s important that everyone knows what the parameters are. Being privately owned, there is certain information that we don’t share publicly, so it’s crucial that our Primos know what they can and shouldn’t share, so they can then have confidence that they’re doing the right thing at all times. We have clear policies and a Code of Conduct that our people sign up to, so it’s super-clear to people what their responsibility is. Once the framework is clear, then within that people can be creative, share, and connect. We’ve even created hashtags to make it easy for people to signal when they are posting.
Paul Smith: Yes, we have a social media policy, we have a conduct at work policy, and we “recruit for attitude”. So, we try to balance those two bits together for the type of people that come to work for us. It’s a trust-based, contractual relationship as well as a formal legal contractually-based relationship. We do have our hashtag as well, #happieroutdoors, which defines us as a community, of who we are. But at the end of the day, we’re also there for a purpose, and that is to make money and compete.
Ann Brown: We do have policies and there are very strict ones around safety or commercial activity. We particularly ask our people to be respectful of different cultures and understand that people will do things in different ways. It is really important that everyone connected to the company understands the requirements of their role and boundaries.
Rob Coyne: It’s part of your onboarding, policies, guidelines and regular checks. There is technology to filter negative comments. It’s an important part of risk compliance, and security is absolutely at the heart of any social media strategy.
ARE YOU CURRENTLY ABLE TO CONTINUOUSLY SHARE RESULTS, BEST PRACTICES AND TO SHOW INDIVIDUAL AND GROUP CONTRIBUTIONS?
Brian Newman: Yes, we do, lots of tagging and people are drawn into recognition on the various channels we have. That’s one way we went from having a very small group of users on a channel to an entire community, because things were being called out for recognition purposes, particularly powerful when it’s peer-to-peer, and then recognised at the executive level too. All of that is easily done, if it’s set up in the right way.
Ann Brown: We have an initiative called “Euronav on the Move” where we engage with our employees about the charity options, and this year it is the Ocean Clean-up. Our ship and shore teams feel really passionately about protecting the environment and want to make a positive contribution.
Heather Gallagher: Thirty years ago, two of our colleagues were working on a drinking water project and they set up, what is now a major charity, Water for All. Every employee can donate through their salary and Atlas Copco will double what the employee contributes, so an earliest example of employee advocacy that has had amazing longevity in our organisation.
Rebecca Hone: We have very positive peer-to-peer recognition, using Yammer, but we’ve found that some teams and departments – especially customerfacing – use handwritten thank you cards, which really resonates in this digital-dominated world.
Rob Coyne: These are great examples of feedback yielding positive results and where recognition is in the DNA of the culture, it’s actually more impactful than reward.
HOW CAN YOU ENSURE AN ADVOCACY PROGRAMME ALIGNS WITH YOUR BUSINESS GOALS AND WHICH SOCIAL MEDIA METRICS CAN BE TRACKED IN ORDER TO DEMONSTRATE RETURN ON INVESTMENT TO STAKEHOLDERS AND DECISION MAKERS?
Paul Smith: Every store manager and support function leader has their own score cards and they have their targets about, not just sales but customer footfall, and conversations, but we don’t concern them with overall group performance, it’s more a store league table which demonstrates customer advice and service as much as sales. The winners of the store leagues table this year are going to Scandinavia for a week, trekking, camping and rafting in Norway, so, it’s compelling, builds healthy competition and also encourages the importance of customer experience.
Brian Newman: There are social media metrics that we look at such as; time to hire, which will interest the business and, if I can persuade them that the speed of hire is driven by employee advocacy that’s created through the channels that we’re populating, that is a pull. We measure engagement through a monthly pulse survey, in real-time, which is helpful.
Paul Smith: In terms of our business balanced scorecard, we specifically have an ENPS score, so an “employee net promoter score” – we thought if we measure our customers in that way we should measure our employees in the same way. I think that’s really important. Retention is another very key metric, as I firmly believe people vote with their feet in terms of what they think of the business and how they’re treated. We have the pulse survey and I also think a key metric is our “time to offer” new recruits. It’s all quite rightly about the return on investment, and one of the things my CEO asked me to do seven months ago was to drill down on our retention metrics, and include it in the board pack, to really demonstrate that, not only are we looking at our commercial ROI, but we’re also looking at our employee ROI.
Claire Palmer: The need for advocacy is already hardwired into our business and so we don’t have to convince leaders of the power and impact to the bottom line. Having said that, of course we want to gather the insights and assess what activity is driving business results in the right way. We do measure engagement and are delighted that we have both world class participation, but also our positive scores on overall engagement and pride. And, of course, there are other measures we track such as attrition and referral to hire.
Matt Handford: We measure engagement in our formal advocacy programme and we’re able to cross-reference that to employee engagement scores. So, we found a nine percent increase in engagement for Amplify users. As a side topic, there are all sorts of interesting things you can do – such as sub-segment your population into some higher engaged people who you can speak to through technology. The other significant piece is more in talent branding and efficiency. You can kind of spike your content deliberately and market to that.
Claire Norburn: We’re just starting to look at these types of metrics in TSB. One particular avenue I’m interested in exploring is around which of our attraction channels are the most effective, i.e. social media, agencies, partner referrals. What does first-year turnover and performance look like by these channels? Understanding this will help us know which levers to push and pull for future talent attraction.
WHAT IS THE KEY TAKE-AWAY FROM TODAY’S DISCUSSION?
Samantha Park: It’s not just having the right tools in place, it’s about being more creative on how we drive engagement on the various platforms.
Danielle Verge: And it depends on culture, plus we all have different leveraging and starting points, and some have it easier than others, but I think there’s some hope to perhaps consolidate all the odd bits we do quite well, and start calling it an advocacy programme.
Claire Norburn: I’m reassured that in terms of employer brand at TSB, we’re on the right track, but there’s no one magic solution, you have to keep testing and learning and always be authentic.
Paul Smith: You need a bit of direction, you need to find that core purpose, but it has to be from the bottom up as well as top down, otherwise I just don’t believe it will work. People will read through it and you’ll plough ahead as a leader thinking this is the right thing to do, but then when you look behind, there’s no one following. I think that’s a real danger. It’s about tuning into what’s going to work best for your organisation.
Rebecca Hone: A culture of self-regulation and self-responsibility is crucial, so that you have the confidence in your colleagues across the business to find their natural way.
Ann Brown: People spend more time at work than they do at home, and we have the ability as a function to unlock the ability for people to be their best at work, and that’s what HR is fundamentally here for. Advocacy is a great way of building that engagement.
Heather Gallagher: Content balance – between organic and polished – is key to authenticity and consistency and engaging and convincing leaders of the potential and opportunity of employee advocacy.
Rob Coyne: Employee advocacy is a key channel for me, and that needs to be viewed holistically by marketers and HR together, as a unit of measurement. It’s important to test, learn, prove and evolve in order to assess what is most effective. Central to longevity is to gain endorsement from senior leadership around the ROI, be it talent retention, acquisition or just employee performance. But I encourage all of you to bang that employee advocacy drum, because it’s such a compelling and powerful channel.
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