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Creating Employee ambassador programs for internal communications

6th January 2015

 
You don’t need us to tell you that the way company information is shared within an organisation is changing – In fact for many organisations, it has changed. It is shifting (shifted) from traditional top down hierarchies, to horizontal networks of trust, with internal social networks and tools largely fuelling the change.
 
The days of internal communications merely telling employees company information have gone. It is now a collaborative process of information sharing.
 
For example, we recently worked on an internal communications campaign that targeted a specific audience – IT workers. The audience was highly aware of the issues we needed to communicate with them about, yet they regularly failed to actively demonstrate the behaviour the communications required of them. In essence it could be said that the employees thought they were above the communications, as they believed there was nothing in the communications that they didn’t already know. We identified that labelling the audience as a ‘problem’ wasn’t the correct approach; instead we needed to make them the ‘solution’ by turning them into ambassadors. This demonstrated to them that we had acknowledged the fact that they were experts on this specific area and that they should make use of their knowledge for the better of the organisation. It was all about empowerment, and empowerment is at the heart of all successful employee ambassador programs.
 
The IT employee ambassadors were now seen as experts and a trusted source to turn to when information on certain areas was required. The employee ambassadors also understood that, being seen as experts, they couldn’t just talk the talk they had to walk the walk, so the behaviour we had been briefed on to change, now had been.
 
Also this was a good audience to use employee ambassadors for, as they were all early adopters and regular users of internal social networks and tools. Social networks are fundamental to the success of employee ambassador programs.
 
We’ll now run through some of the advantages of employee ambassador programs for internal communications, followed by some advice on best practice.
 
 

Advantages of employee ambassador programs:

– Employee ambassadors will be highly engaged employees. In turn, being part of an employee engagement program will further fuel their engagement levels.
 
– An employee ambassador program improves the way employees share and receive information internally. Employees now cite other employees as their primary source for company information, and with social media fuelling this behaviour, organisations can further elevate the employee-to-employee channel through ambassador programs.
 
– Linked to the above point and as we alluded to in the example in the opening section, ambassador programs take advantage of, often the untapped, knowledge and skills of a workforce. Other employees largely see expert employees as a more credible source of information than dedicated leaders.
 
– This post primarily focuses on using employee ambassadors to improve internal collaboration and brand building. However, the high level of engagement seen in employee ambassadors will also filter through to the outside world, meaning employee ambassadors become external brand ambassadors too. The goal for every organisation is for all of their employees to be brand ambassadors.
 
– Something we make further reference to in the following ‘best practice’ section is ‘culture’. When employee ambassadors share information it keeps employees engaged with the company’s values and so strengthens corporate culture. The right culture is fundamental to high employee engagement.
 
– Ambassador programs often bring to the forefront new ideas, innovations and improvements to work processes, through this; new talent can also be uncovered.
 
 

Best Practice:

‘What’s in it for me then’. That’s often the first thought that runs through employees minds when they’re considering an ambassador role. The hope is that their intrinsic motivation drivers come up with the answers. Answers such as:
 
Understanding how the ambassador program could benefit their career progression.
 
And how by being a brand ambassador the employee will become an even more important and valued member of the organisation – Giving them a sense of purpose. It gives them a voice within the organisation, allowing them to be heard.
 
It’s best to avoid the use of extrinsic rewards and incentives. Remember, ambassador programs empower the employee, and tap into intrinsic motivations. Although, rewards and recognition do form an important part of successful ambassador programs, but only if they are deployed correctly, and ideally not as incentives.
 
Linked to the above point: Don’t put pressure on employees to become ambassadors. An employee ambassador can’t be faked.
 
 
The second question that may cross an employees mind is:
 

‘Yeah, but how much extra work is that going to involve?'

 
Today’s employees have a high workload, and so they will avoid work overload where possible. Therefore it is key that ambassador commitments are aligned with an employee’s current role and their day-to-day activities, so that being an employee ambassador does not feel like an additional role. It is all about taking advantage of their existing skills and knowledge and finding the easiest way for them to use it to educate others.
 
The ideal is for the brand ambassador program to grow organically. But there needs to be a program in place to train and support the ambassadors, which will have to be led by a dedicated team.
 
As with the success of many internal communication initiatives – senior management need to be on board and actively support the ambassador program. By delivering direct feedback and holding conversations with the brand ambassadors, senior leaders will provide the recognition (reward) that the ambassadors seek, by showing them that their voice is being heard – Therefore ultimately improving employee engagement.
 
Employee ambassador programs should be in line with business objectives. Ambassador programs must have a business case. Measurement is therefore important, with the results then communicated to the brand ambassadors, showing them the difference they are making to the organisation.
 
It’s important to identify the values of your organisation and the culture you are trying to cultivate, as you need to ensure employee ambassadors are educated on them so that they continually demonstrate and share the same values through their role as an ambassador.
 
Brand ambassadors need to be social media savvy. Social media networks and tools will be the primary way in which employees carry out their role as an ambassador. Both internal and external social networks will be used – external networks can also be leveraged for internal communications. Training on best practice is essential.
 
Employee ambassadors can sometimes be seen by other employees as ‘goody goodies’ – We can all remember these from our school days. And so they think that these ‘goody goodies’ are just passing on the corporate info they are being told to. There’s no doubt, this perception is hard to eradicate. There are ways of involving less engaged employees with ambassador programs to provide them an insight into how they work, to hopefully change perceptions. Key is providing autonomy to ambassadors, hopefully this will shine through, meaning employees will see ambassadors as individuals rather than simply corporate messengers.
 
 

Conclusion

 
While ambassador programs aren’t exactly new, social media is now supercharging them.
 
As such, employee ambassador programs now offer a win-win-win situation. Employee ambassadors themselves, through a program, are highly engaged (win 1). Employees, through their experiences with ambassadors, are highly engaged (win 2). And ultimately, an organisation has a workforce that has created an attractive culture and demonstrates high levels of employee engagement, which will undoubtedly have a positive effect on the bottom line success of the organisation (win 3).
 
If you require any help with the strategy, design and implementation of your employee ambassador programs please do get in touch.
 
Until next time…
 
Rima
 
 

 


 

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