Employee Loyalty Is Not Dead

“Loyalty means leaving when you are no longer motivated,” writes Lee Caraher in her new book The Boomerang Principle. At the heart of Caraher’s quote is the new meaning of employee loyalty. It reflects a significant mindset shift for those of us who believed that loyalty was a one-way commitment. That one-way commitment centered on an employees’ gratitude toward their employer. This now outdated mindset went something like this: “You, employer, hired and trusted in me to do a good job; In return, I’ll work hard for you.” As such, the term “company man” took root and became a badge of honor.

Now in the 21st century, millennial bias has undermined our ability to understand the new nature of commitment for all employees. Without learning from all generations in the workplace, we rely on mental shortcuts that lead to unfair comparisons and shortsighted conclusions. The result is that managers and employees create barriers to understanding one another. Ultimately the business and its customers suffer. And the nature of the contract between employer and employee continues to deliver unrealistic expectations that are frustrating.

What Is Employee Loyalty Today? 

Caraher’s quote reveals the nature of loyalty today. This new view isn’t held solely by millennials, however; it’s a human perspective, fitting to all ages. This new loyalty has three elements to it.

First, we need to see employment as a two-way street. Certainly, there must be a commitment to the company’s growth. Each employee contributes to that growth based on his or her role and skills. Additionally, the organization makes a commitment to develop each employee while they are with the company. Leaders can demonstrate this commitment in simple ways:

  • Learning what sort of problems employees want to solve and helping them make a difference
  • Syncing business needs with individual development plans based on employees’ goals, values, and strengths
  • Sending employees to workshops, industry events
  • Pairing employees with mentors
  • Being available to coach employees

Next, the new employee loyalty isn’t determined by tenure. Instead, it’s based on the quality of that two-way relationship. What’s more, it’s not bound by employment. Caraher insightfully writes that when someone is “no longer engaged, productive, or happy” at work, “the most loyal act an employee can do is leave . . .”

From this perspective, employees take to heart the quality of their contribution and their satisfaction in delivering results. There’s both deep respect and a sense of ownership for results. When these wane, a loyal employee believes her work is done and it is time to move on. This is no different than a senior manager concluding that it’s time to leave because she has done what she was hired to do.

The new loyalty is not bound by employment. When employees have a positive experience working for you, they become advocates of your company even after they leave. They refer friends to apply for open positions. They speak positively about you online using social media and sites like Glassdoor. This is the greatest compliment you can get.

Finally, the ultimate reciprocal act of loyalty from an employer is the re-hiring employees who have left. Returning to Caraher’s book, she calls this strategic practice The Boomerang Principle. The principle is simple: Employees who leave and want to come back often develop new skills from different experiences. They also return with fresh perspectives that can be mutually beneficial.

Loyalty has evolved. It is earned by leaders and organizations who create an environment conducive to learning and progress. It is earned by employees who actively apply and grow their talents. Both are stewards of the resources entrusted to them. Ultimately, this new loyalty is earned when there are mutual admiration and respect.

This post was originally published in Inc.

Employee Advocacy = Engaged Employees

A great work environment with happy employees is the start for creating sincere and enduring employee advocates. When people experience a wonderful culture in action and believe in the reputation of their company, they become your most effective spokespeople.

Why Does it Matter?

There is a lot of research out there that supports the direct correlation between employee satisfaction and its impact on customer satisfaction.  When employees are engaged advocates, they will go the extra mile for the customer, seeking out alternate and better ways to deliver service that amazes and delights. These employees don’t mind spending extra time with a customer to ensure their complete satisfaction, has been met, and are more likely to set achievable expectations for customer service delivery and timing.

Additionally, employee advocacy humanizes your brand. It puts a face to the brick and mortar of your business and allows people outside the company to better identify with your people-driven mission. It’s like word-of-mouth advertising… a very powerful weapon in the war for customer satisfaction and their dollars.

What’s in it for Employees?

Empowerment allows employees to become stakeholders by having them take part in decision-making processes. This empowerment enables them to take responsibility for their role and manage their behaviors and outcomes.  A culture of trust allows people to do their job, autonomously. Employees want to create their own successes, and with that find greater satisfaction in themselves and with the culture around them.

Feedback is a powerful tool in the workplace. It enables people to see how they contribute to the bigger picture of the organization. It’s important for each employee to see how her specific role impacts the organization. Show employees, directly, how their work is improving customer retention, profitability, or the metric that is most closely related to their position. This will motivate them in their jobs, in attainable goals, and increase their engagement.

Skills and knowledge training provides the growth and expansion employees need to keep improving and advancing in their careers. Challenge them to find learning opportunities that can be applied to their jobs and allow them to put this new-found knowledge to work. The empowerment and satisfaction they can reap from this experience will encourage them to look forward to future learnings to continue growing their skills and knowledge.

Collaboration across an organization opens the door to team spirit and engages people at a more root level because they believe every employee is approachable for conversation. Being able to collaborate on projects with colleagues will increase employee engagement, and make the projects more satisfying and effective allowing employees to ideate, give peers feedback and bring solutions to the forefront. In other words, to take ownership.

Why You Need Advocates

Employees who are advocates for their organization cast a wider net not only inside the organization but externally, as well. They reach a larger audience and position themselves as the voice of the organization. They will increase your brand engagement with potential new customers and employees, which from a monetary value, can save companies dollars in advertising and marketing promotions. As engaged employees, advocates are tremendous agents and defenders of your company’s reputation, again positioning themselves as a voice for their employer. Further, research has shown that employee advocates can increase the stock value of organizations by over two and a half times versus organizations that do not support employee advocacy and engagement.

Creating Advocacy

Focus on your culture to understand how employees view the company. To truly understand how successful an advocacy program will work, you first need to understand what people are thinking. If you guess you may guess wrong and that could produce a myriad of consequences. Leadership needs to have the courage to ask, “What do you like and dislike about working here?” This information is gold to the wise employer. With this in hand, set out to better understand what your employees are seeing and that may even include how they view the leadership within the organization. Be prepared to leave your ego at the door, as the feedback may be a wake-up call for management, but if the goal is to create a better workplace, recognition of what works and what is failing miserably must be addressed.

Communication is key here. Employees are inspired by leadership that is open and authentic with communications. Strong leadership that has a clear idea of the company’s direction will be viewed much more favorably than a waffling leader that is out of touch with the company’s mission. When communications flow back and forth between leadership and the employee population, the likelihood of misunderstandings and mistakes lessens.

Measure the results. Whenever possible, track the metrics that will gauge the outcomes of employee advocacy. For example, if increased customer retention is the goal, design a program to determine what a successful outcome will be. Communicate this goal to your employees, then provide them with the resources and opportunities to explore and expand on their knowledge and skills in support of the goal. By tracking the data, you can adjust how you communicate and incentivize your employee advocacy initiatives for future goals.

Trust and Opportunity

Organizations need to believe in their employees and want to help them to promote the organization, but first they need to give them good reasons. Pressuring them rather than encouraging them will not work. Advocacy needs to flow naturally for it to be believable. Leadership can, however, empower employees with knowledge and tools to promote the benefits. With a minimal amount of direction, companies can offer opportunities for employees to exercise their bragging rights in a public, social way. I know of companies that had business cards printed for each employee so if that person was interacting in a social setting and felt the opportunity was right, they could hand their business card to potential new customers and even use it as a referral card for job seekers.

Of course, having a set of “Do’s and Don’ts” is helpful so employees understand what would fall outside the parameters of advocacy. No organization can tolerate proprietary information being shared with people outside the company, so establishing parameters that address items such as this, is important.

The Dividends

Essentially, the value of having employees who act as brand advocates offers a value next to priceless. What better way to market your organization, espouse the features of your products and spread the word in a social manner that is much less expensive than traditional marketing and advertising.

To me, employee advocacy is when employees look forward to pitching the benefits of their organization and do it because they’re excited and energized, not because they’re specifically prompted by management. What sets these advocates apart from other employees is they’re engaged with their employer and find their workplace environment a satisfying atmosphere where communication and opportunity to grow and collaborate occur with consistency.

And most importantly, organizations need to give employees a reason to advocate for the company. An engaged employee advocate is the best bet you have for increasing customer satisfaction, and to experience business prosperity in an organic manner that is natural and unprompted. And the best aspect is, it’s one of the best methods for retaining valuable talent and attracting more of the same.

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