I bet you’ve had a moment in your career where you had an awesome idea or wanted to counter one but you were afraid of ‘making a fuss’ because it ‘isn’t in my department’. Idea collaboration should be a positive experience but reality is, there are people working with you that probably feel like this.

We need more employee advocacy.

I know that’s usually lumped with creating brand advocates and social businesses, but I want to offer a different angle today.

Employee advocacy is such a powerful asset, and not encouraging it in the workplace can be damaging.

employee advocacy

Not only does lack of inclusion drain employee morale, the company stifles progress (whether you know it or want to admit it) by neglecting to take full advantage of their employees.

I live and work in a predominantly hearing world. You can bet I’ve had to be a self advocate for accessibility to communication and information all my life. I can vouch for the part where it hurts morale – but I can also say it’s very possible to fix it dramatically. My hunger for inclusion has carried over in a professional environment and I’ve witnessed the drastic impact employee advocacy has made on team collaboration and creative processes.

Not all employees are going to advocate for their ideas to be part of dialogue, so it’s necessary for leaders to encourage employee advocacy. I’m going to suggest what you could avoid – or stop – doing.

1) Stop Saying “The Door’s Always Open”

Not all employees will take this seriously. This line does not muster up confidence among employees. Even if it comes from a genuine place.

But that’s not always true. To quote a friend, “My old boss was always big on his open door policy, but always treated everyone, and their ideas, like shit so nobody ever went to talk to him. Everyone hated when he joined meetings as well. That’s not a good way to lead a group.”

Plus with remote workers, there are fewer open doors and more stuffed email boxes making it easier to overlook what could be the next breakthrough.

employee advocacy

So what do you do?

Approach your employees assertively. Ask them thoughtful (and unexpected) questions such as:

  • “What are you dying to complain about on this project?”
  • I heard this project is about ready to launch. I know you were working on [different component], but what do you think of [different component] progress?”
  • “I think you and this person might benefit from a brainstorm session. Why don’t you try that?”
  • “I like that idea. Why don’t we see what [insert name] thinks and explore its potential?”
  • “Let’s schedule a cross departmental meeting between the engineers and marketing. Put it out on _{insert communication platform}_

You need flowing and diverse dialogue, not isolated conversations in separate departments. Inclusion fuels innovation. When employees see your honest curiosity and take action per their suggestions, your cred gets better. More will come to you…..or they will turn to other employees, as they should be able to in the first place.

employee advocacy

2) Don’t Always Think “Empower”

I’m not criticizing the word or its usage. But let’s noodle on something real quick: empowering somebody by giving them the ability to do something, that should be a shared attitude and mindset, doesn’t send the right vibe.

Why do you have to “grant” collaboration?

You can’t kick somebody out of the conversation or label them as insufficient if they say something you don’t agree with or they came up with a lousy idea.

Empowering employees is honorable but in this specific area, believe in the power of inclusion and collaboration. Those are powerful business principles – not a right or privilege which can be revoked. And your employees will share the attitude. Let them know their contribution elevates the conversation.

3) Don’t Leave it Up to Technology

If you’re considering using an internal collaboration tool such as Yammer or Asana, or already use it, don’t expect ideas to flourish on their own. Like #2, you can’t say “Here you guys, I’m going to let you share your ideas. Bring it on!” How do they know you believe in it?

Working together and sharing ideas is an attitude. The technology is just there to facilitate it. Earlier this year, Garner reported a poor success rate of 10% with entreprise social collaboration tools (it has some tips on what makes it successful too).

Leaders need to establish the conditions so the employees feel ready to advocate and share ideas. Companies with highly engaged workers grew revenues two and a half times as much as those with low engagement levels, according to research from a Hay Group study.

I dare say employee advocacy is a powerful asset.

Advocacy is something I treasure so if you’re a leader or employee (or both), let us know if you’re ready to gain an edge and what’s holding you back.

Image credits: Santos “Grim Santo” Gonzalez, Joelk75 and Karl Horton via Creative Commons