Building a Workplace Cutlure of Advocacy

We talk constantly about how to use individual employees to leverage a brand. I just attended a session at South by Southwest called “Cultures of Advocacy: People, Product and Change” and it was interesting to hear the perspective from big (and even global) brands like GAP, Southwest Airlines and agencies that have worked in similar capacities. The premise of the entire session was to show how companies are leveraging their employees to create brand ambassadors and advocates of change.

Building a Workplace Cutlure of Advocacy


Let’s be honest. There is a lot of buzz around employer branding, creating advocates in your workplace and building a strong culture. The noise is generally so loud that everyone thinks they’re an expert in the field of culture, but the truth is a very small percentage of them are. I don’t think I’m an expert and probably never will be, but those who spoke at this session are and I’m basically going to regurgitate their nuggets of wisdom.

Understanding your culture and the currency of your audience

Tricia Nichols from GAP pretty much drilled it into our brains that in order to really understand your culture and brand your message to whomever you’re talking to — you first need to understand the currency of your audience.

Using common language

The first step to understanding the currency of your audience is to understand the language that each person speaks. I’m not talking about English versus Spanish, but moreso you have to understand first who your audience is then second you have to learn to speak their language. Developers aren’t going to talk the same as marketers and your logistical and operations people aren’t going to talk the same as your marketers. Use common language that’ll help solve issues and be able to communicate that in a common language where everyone understands.

This is important for corporate culture because businesses have to understand the variety of each employee, department, and their backgrounds. Without understanding this you miss out on the intricacies of culture and how everyone plays a small role in the bigger production that is your company. This is why you hear having a diverse board of directions has a strong impact on sales and growth.

Showing employees they have the ability to create change

If someone clocks in and clocks out daily without being really engaged in creating change within your company then you aren’t doing a good job at creating advocacy amongst your employees. The root of this problem is that employers tend to lack mentorship opportunities and they really don’t do a good job at communicating to your team that they have the ability to be an agent of change within your organization.

Creating these opportunities and building well-rounded employees is the first step in creating a strong and engaged workforce. It also helps with retention!

Learning empathy

Learning empathy isn’t easy. In the workplace empathy is taught. Nichols said it best when she said, “Put the anti-parade guy in charge of the parade. It forces the antagonist’s goals to become part of the project.”

This struck a cord because I’m wondering why would you put someone in charge of something that they obviously aren’t into, isn’t that counter-productive to the overall mission? She doesn’t think so. It stretches your employees and helps them become more empathetic to other faucets of the business.

Understanding the currency that it takes to get a project done and then working in those currencies allows employers to work faster and better. Recruiting in the mindset of change is important because change is inevitable while growth is completely optional.

In part 2 I’ll discuss what to look for in hiring advocates for your company and specific characteristics to look for when recruiting talent in what this session called “A Culture of Advocacy.”

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.


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