In June 2019 I received a number of 'confidential' messages via social media from a number of extremely concerned employees from that well known British Retailer 'Marks and Spencer', this following an article I had written on LinkedIn - you can find it here.
If we read the recent trading announcements post the festive period it seems this retailer is just one of many that are still finding things difficult in today's digitally connected socially savvy world we all live in.
The (employees) continued to respond to another blog of mine (read it here) about how companies are happy to 'advertise and promote' themselves on social media, but very few of them appear to have a 'listening' approach built into that strategy.
The comments I got were very much echoing the same sentiment, and by sharing their concerns as an internal problem they all said the same thing that "those in the boardroom are not only disconnected to its customers, but also from its employees".
According to Entrepreneur’s Robert Tuchman, if you’ve hired talented employees, you need to trust the talent you saw in them to produce the kind of value their ideas can generate. When you empower them to share their ideas, all that otherwise wasted brainpower can go to work to generate more revenue for your company.
I talk a lot about 'employee advocacy' because I've seen it work, and if done with the right training, leadership mindset, and check/balance framework it can prove to be an awesome innovation Superpower for companies and brands alike.
To do this requires leadership teams to rethink how they might encourage and support employee ideation.
The days of focus groups, and research studies aren't much use if you already have preconceived ideas about 'what the customer wants, and when your business is in free-fall its not innovation that's at the front of the queue, it's often the bean counters in grey suits.
What does this mean in real terms you might ask.
I've been around quite a bit and I can't tell you how many times I've been brought into a company to help move it forwards, and consistently found numerous hidden gems as part of the workforce.
I say hidden gems, what I'm talking about is people who are operating as square pegs in rounds holes so to speak. Many of these people have simply not been given the bandwidth or the right stage to share their thoughts on how things could be improved in the company.
Leadership to my knowledge doesn't come with an encyclopedic knowledge of everything, so I'm always confused when leaders think that they are the owners of 'innovation'.
As you empower employees to become brand advocates, go a step further and use their ideas to drive innovation. With today’s rapidly changing technology, business processes, and market changes, innovation is a must to take the lead in your industry.
Tear down the silos that divide talented marketers from superb salespeople and brilliant engineers from the content marketing teams that can create stunning brochures and videos for that new widget prototype. When you pair the talent and ideas in one department with those in another, the dividends can be enormous.
Not only should you foster collaboration among your employees, but you should also foster a collaborative attitude yourself. Ask your employees for their feedback on various current projects, as well as their input on possible new projects.
At the last count (2019) troubled retailer M&S had circa 80k staff, this will obviously reduce with the ongoing store closure program but go with me;
If we activated (trained) just 10% those staff how best to talk on social media about the company, and if those 10% only had 100 followers each that would give M&S an additional reach of 800,000 followers, plus the peoples network of followers - its a multiplier effect.
Where its gets really interesting is if we could 'activate' 30% of the staff who became the 'advocates' of the brand on social media, and they all had 500 followers which is a more likely result, and remember these people will already know, and we presume will love the M&S brand, therefore more likely to share content, this would amplify the M&S reach to a further 12 million people, who themselves could then help to 'amplify' the feedback mechanism.
Now that's the real power of 'employee advocacy' in today's socially connected world.
Imagine if 'Mothercare' had engaged in an employee advocacy program and trained the employees to create educational and insightful content based on the 'Early Learning Centre' (ELC) brand as opposed to constantly pushing out those spammy product 'Mothercare' sales offers?
Would they be able to better operate in today's socially savvy world?
Once you’ve seen the value engaged employees bring to the table, you’ll want to attract more talented people to help grow your business. Innovative companies are the ones that draw that kind of talent – so you’ll need to harness your employees’ insights to drive that innovation.