In this first episode of the second series of the Engaging Internal Comms, The Big Picture People’s Craig Smith talks to Linda McCormack, who is Head of Internal Communications at Anglian Water.
Anglian Water has around 5,000 core employees and thousands more partner employees who bring required skillsets to enhance the company as a business and a service. It is one of the first water PLCs to embed pride and advocacy in its employees within its purpose and into a formal Article of Association.
Prior to her role at Anglian Water, Linda has held senior internal communication roles at organisations like Direct Line and others within the financial services industry. Linda has also previously worked as a communications consultant.
The importance of employee advocacy and sourcing it from the top
Successful organisations rely on a good reputation. This provides the foundation of customer loyalty that leads to repeat business and referrals. However, an organisation’s good reputation externally will only surface from a good reputation internally, amongst its own people.
It is this internal reputation – based on the culture of its employees, and their purpose and mission to provide their goods or service – that develops employee advocacy: the promotion of an organisation through its employees.
To create employee advocacy, leadership and influence must create brand awareness, innovation, and most importantly employee engagement.
The most fruitful position to lead and influence employee advocacy is from the C-Suite. Linda describes her CEO at Anglian Water, who has led a rich culture of employee advocacy throughout the company: “He’s very passionate. Passionate about the work. He’s passionate about sustainability. He’s passionate about resilience. This kind of thing genuinely means something and that then filters through the organisation, of course it does.”
To create employee engagement, it is important for internal comms people to feel supported by management in promoting the ethos of the business and delivering its purpose. This helps employees understand the importance of their role to deliver and make a difference to the organisation’s customers and the organisation itself. This creates a ladder for their daily tasks and understanding why they’re doing it, what for, and how they can achieve it.
Instilling a sense of purpose and value within employees
With employees fulfilling different roles – potentially out on the field and office-based – it can be a challenge to universally instil a sense of purpose and corporate social responsibility across the board. With disconnection having been a bigger problem this year than before, internal comms people are challenged with creating a sense of unity and collective purpose.
Linda recommends co-creation within an organisation, welcoming employees to become involved with discussions even before decisions are made. When employees are asked how they feel and organisations make efforts to understand what works for them and what doesn’t, they gain a sense of pride in their workplace and loyalty towards it.
Linda suggests organisations, management, internal comms people, and employees all visualise purpose as a guiding star: a common goal that everyone follows and continually pursues by evolving, exploring, and transforming together to find better ways.
Having a purpose with value is what matters the most in creating employee advocacy. “Values are what underpin the whole thing,” says Linda. “They are the standards of behaviour, and they help us support and challenge each other, through the tough times as well as the good times.”
A line of sight for employee advocacy
To promote employee advocacy, employees must first have a line of sight – a logical sense of how a business wants to move forward and how every employee plays a role in the mechanisms of doing so.
When employees understand the future and the business strategy, they trust their leaders, they feel inspired, and they believe in their brand.
Creating a strategic business plan which employees have co-created annually and as far ahead as 25 years provides a line of sight that creates purpose, stability, engagement, and productivity within employees.
To provide this line of sight, internal comms people must carefully and logically consider how to present the purpose and its message. The challenge is to ensure a sense of belonging and meaningfulness in each employee’s contributions, analysing inconsistencies in the narrative, and how it is received to allow all employees to merge together.
Building advocacy and pride within your people
Employee advocacy and pride will only truly emerge from a contented workforce. “People generally like to be happy,” says Linda. “And one of the great ways I found to create advocacy is to create a happy advocate.”
When employees work within a harmonious and supportive environment that encourages inclusion and openness, loyalty follows. Most importantly, involving employees in the co-creation of the brand encourages them to take ownership of it. They feel happy and confident in telling people about the brand. It makes them feel good, they have a strong knowledge of it, and they are completely onboard with the brand’s purpose.
Consequently, without forcing through the use of promotions and KPIs, employees naturally and confidently advocate their organisation, even beyond their working day.
Linda gives an example of when, during the coronavirus pandemic, Anglian Water asked employees to spread the word about the Priority Services Register, helping those who need support most quickly realise that they will be treated with priority.
Employees went above and beyond to get the message out. They used social media, told family, friends, and neighbours, and even helped vulnerable and less able customers make the call. They were happy advocates, because they saw a purpose in what the company was asking of them, and they felt good about delivering it.
A perfect example of the power of employee advocacy and the effects it can have on a business.
Internal comms challenges
Most notably, the challenge for internal comms is unifying different teams that operate in different ways, such as field staff and office staff.
Linda says internal comms people must ensure that all staff realise that, however they work, they are all customer-facing staff. “It’s all customer-facing – we all have an opportunity to make an impression on our customers,” she says.
Internal comms people must help employees realise their touchpoints; that they’re all on the front line, with the ability to help advocate the brand to its customers.
The pandemic has been a particularly challenging time, as different staff faced different challenges. However, the experience has taught organisations and internal comms people to treat all employees as frontline workers.
The pandemic has highlighted the need to demolish hierarchies within organisations, to see viewpoints from different perspectives from all areas of the business, and to have equal respect for positions across the board.
With a purpose-driven team of happy and engaged people, employee advocacy will see organic engagement that creates seamless and almost effortless promotion radiating from the centre of the business.
Linda’s LinkedIn Profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/linda-mccormack-80770452/?originalSubdomain=uk