Increasing employee advocacy in extraordinary times

11 Mar 2020
Carrie Birmingham

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Sadly, COVID-19 continues to effect individuals across the world, and now we’re seeing the knock-on effect this is having on businesses. As such, I was invited to contribute to a conversation about managing crisis communications by Livingbridge (an independent private equity investor). They wanted to support their investee companies businesses by hosting a series of regular webinars the first of which was their Managing Crisis Communications Webinar.  

My contribution was on internal communications, and I shared three simple rules to increase employee advocacy during these extraordinary times, which you will find outlined below.   They are outlined below in the hope that they are useful.

1. Agree your stance 

It’s very tempting when a problem hits to dive into action. My first rule is to take a step back and ask yourself the question, “How do we want to show up during this period?”.  During these turbulent times, employees are highly attuned to what is being said or not said and because there are heightened emotions, the impact of any internal communications can be felt more severely. 

Within extraordinary events, it can be tempting to write carefully crafted communications, which are communicated down to staff, after you have spoken to your customers.  

We saw lots of negative press this week when this type of thinking led to a draconian email of rules for working at home being sent by Wall Street Journal that clearly suggests they don’t trust their staff.  

On the webinar, the chairman of a Logistics business talked about how they were using their core company values to guide their response and this is a great example of thinking about how you show up. Our teams are our greatest advocates, and so if we choose to be honest, visible, transparent and invite contribution, we are showing staff that we trust them and want to work with them to navigate the problem.  This will increase employee advocacy and hence your chances of thriving.  You might argue you don’t have time, but in 20 minutes you can debate and agree the to simple rules that will represent your stance and will help you show up more positively.   You may think that everyone knows this already, but you will be surprised how valuable it becomes when you make it explicit.  Also by being explicit, people know what to expect and that allows them to operate more effectively 

2. Balance Head and Heart

If you are senior in your business then there is a temptation to think you need to have all the answers.  You will need to let that go because we are all stepping into the unknown.  The repercussions of this virus and our response to contain it are playing out for all to see, so the smart move is to pool our knowledge and ask people “What do you think?”.  

It can be frustrating when you are being asked questions if you don’t know the answers, but we need to remember that many of the questions are coming from fear; after all humans are wired for safety.    With this in mind, actively look for places where you can offer teams assurances, whether that is about the big stuff (wages, jobs, sick-pay) or the day-to-day stuff (tech tools, flexibility in hours).  If your business is at risk, be honest about that, because your teams will see through any bland assurance that don’t ring true..  

The CEO of home care business described on the webinar that he is recording a 2 minute bi-weekly video as a way of connecting with his teams in a more heartfelt way. It can be tempting to stick to the practical but connecting in a human way by asking people how they are, and really listening to the answer, will help people feel connected to you and the organisation.   Look for ways to talk about how people are feeling and being honest about how you are feeling will help teams feel supported.  

3. Get people involved

Within extraordinary events, there are so many elements to think about (payment terms, supplier lead times) that you need to utilise teams to work things out. Don’t limit this work to your senior team, ask staff members if they want to get involved.  In involving teams you both show your people that you trust them and it also improves the depth of understanding across the organisation : because each employee involved will act as an advocate for you.  Don’t be drawn into solely dealing with the immediate problems in front of you; also take some time to think about what can being done about various scenarios in the longer term (you will be amazed at how useful that will become later).  

Where your organisation is big enough, stealing the “Standup” from agile methodology, can help you co-ordinate the various work streams or groups and keeping them informed.  

As well as thinking about the work that needs doing, you also need to think about what support people need, so ask them. Look for ways to bring people together for conversations, beyond getting work done.  If you are unfamiliar with virtual working, you might find yourself resisting or blocking ideas about this because it doesn’t feel right. Admit to yourself that is what you are doing, and be prepared to experiment.  


These simple rules will help you switch from thinking about survival to thinking about how you can increase employee advocacy and hence come out of this situation stronger and more agile. Whilst the virus brings fear and uncertainty, how we navigate this storm together will determine how we emerge on the other side.   

If you want to explore how you can raise employee advocacy in these extraordinary times, you can contact us here.