To what extent can top management urge individuals to engage with their company? Writing for Talent Culture, Roy Osing states that employee engagement is often a question of “company-wide initiatives promulgated from above that all functions ‘down below’ are expected to participate in”. There is, of course, a lot of truth in this – after all, how often do we read about the importance of executive buy-in? The notion of movements being triggered from the top?
The underlying issue is that while executive impetus is essential, many companies have a misguided idea of what it entails. It ISN’T about management telling teams that they need to engage in a new initiative, in the hope that authority alone will create sufficient momentum. It IS about management showing true leadership by being the first to adopt new practices, procedures and tools, in such a way that others recognize the benefits and follow their lead.
Communication: Set an Example You Expect Others to Emulate
Management teams are often criticized for being too distant; for being guilty of detachment, which in turn means there is a lack of communication between themselves and those at lower levels of the organization. The answer, we are led to believe, lies in opening up communication so as to allow the messages, insights and contributions of top management to reach all employees.
However, this is just one step in what is a much longer process. Top management need to share their expertise with everyone in the organization, but why stop there? Successful leadership is about creating a vent of innovation that runs throughout the company; the example leaders set should be one they encourage others to emulate.
Osing rightly points out that “enhancing employee engagement requires individuals to emotionally connect with the goals of the organization”. This is likely to happen when employees are able to see the larger picture; when executive management communicate directly with all members of the organization. But it’s even more likely to happen when individuals can have their own impact on enterprise communication – when they can share pertinent content, feedback and ideas with others, including top management.
Leading Engaged Employees to Become Employee Advocates
Once such a collaborative culture has been achieved, management have another leadership challenge on their hands. Many companies now realize that employee engagement must break out of the internal sphere, and support the way in which organizations are portrayed externally. Such a mindset is a key catalyst of employee advocacy programs, with the sharing of information and ideas within companies breaking out into the realm of social media, and having a significant impact on companies’ brand visibility and credibility.
In many cases, companies that have reached this stage of maturity boast leaders who are themselves clear advocates of the organization. Nevertheless, some are still missing the mark. It’s all well and good for top management to be involved in the inception of an employee advocacy program; to stand up on stage, sign the launch emails and say “We want you, our employees, to be our most visible ambassadors”. But if they don’t embody that philosophy themselves, such rhetoric is highly unlikely to succeed.