Why your most important audience is your employees
Consumers are becoming more and more sceptical. Whether you’re a government, a business, a non-governmental organisation or you’re in the media, whatever you’re ‘selling’, your potential ‘buyer’ is no longer prepared to believe your advertising or your hype.
They’re becoming more interested in your reviews and what the people that work for you say. Now it’s not just your sales team or your PR that potentially sells your corporate image or your product – every employee in your company is an advocate for your organisation... or a detractor.
A recent research report from Edelman Intelligence on employee engagement (The Edelman Trust Barometer 2016) found that the most trusted spokesperson on how businesses perform, operate, manage crises and treat their people is the employees themselves.
It's a trust thing
Employees who trust their leaders will be more likely to say good things about their employer - and consumers will believe them. Similarly, employees who don’t trust their leaders will be less likely to say good things about their employer - and they will also be believed by consumers.
The reason why leaders and managers should be worried by this is highlighted by a link that Edelman researchers found between the behaviours of leaders and the willingness of employees to advocate for their company. Many leaders still believe that employees will parrot what they say and that hierarchical non-democratic organisational structures result in obedient employees who toe the party line and automatically extol the virtues of their employer.
The research showed a disconnect between authority and influence. Leaders have lost control over the dissemination of information about their organisation; and when employees don’t trust their employers, employers can’t trust what their employees say. The trust barometer shows that one-in-three employees don’t trust their own company. Consumers feel that a trustworthy company is one that treats its people well. As the main touch point for customers in most organisations, employees are vital in making customers feel they have a voice.
The ways that senior leaders present themselves to their employees has huge implications for workforce relations. Displaying ethical behaviours, being transparent and open, taking responsible actions to address crises, demonstrating a social conscience... Why is the leadership we need not the leadership we get?
Malcolm Higgs, Professor of Human Resource Management and Organisation Behaviour at Southampton Business School, highlights the significance of authenticity as a major aspect of effective sustainable leadership and building employee engagement. His work has entailed interviews with 66 senior leaders from 53 organisations. He believes leaders need to develop their own self-awareness and tune into their own emotional states so that they can manage their own feelings and become aware of what approach they need to take to gain employee trust and be authentic.
These skills do not involve ‘doing’ leadership tasks so much as they require incumbents to ‘be’ leaders. Cultivating skills such as purpose, self-awareness, empathy, and acutely paying attention to what is going on in your head and making conscious decisions about your behaviour – your ‘inner game’ – is at the heart of developing who you are as a leader. It comes before you can work out what it is you need to ‘do’.
Simon Sinek recently tweeted "Leadership is not about the crown you wear. Leadership is about the person you are." What matters in real leadership (as opposed to management or authority) are the emotional connections that are hardwired into the human condition. People like to feel part of a tribe. How good is your company at creating that culture for your employees?
Companies commonly experience struggle with moving forward when their values and strategy are unclear or lack direction. There may be conflicting priorities when leaders don’t work as a team, haven’t committed to a new direction or acknowledged necessary changes in their own behaviour. There may be a ‘top-down’ leadership style that prevents honest conversation about problems; there may be a lack of coordination across departments or functions or insufficient leadership attention given to HR issues. Employees may be afraid to tell the leadership about obstacles to the organisation’s effectiveness.
So, start thinking about your employees and your customers in the same way. Give the quality of the ways you engage your own people as high a priority as the ways you engage your customers and potential customers.
- Work at engaging employees and building trust. Describe to employees the ways in which the company delivers something truly worthwhile to the world that is more than just profit. Evidence this and show your employees how they are the heroes of this work.
- Give them shareable content and encourage them to share it with pride.
- Ask for their feedback on your leadership – value what they say and act on it in the same way as you would if they were your customers.
Develop your structures to make this easy to happen and you’ll be leveraging the trusted advocacy status of employees who are ‘people like me’ for your customers.
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