We live in divisive times and business leaders are grappling with how to lead employees with a variety of viewpoints while creating a cohesive culture. Thanks to social media and other digital tools, employees have far-reaching platforms to share their views as corporate ambassadors as well as whistleblowers.
Employees are increasingly challenging their companies’ decisions and stances. They are picking up the megaphone on tough issues, forcing leadership to rethink policies and how they handle internal and external communications.
Businesses need to reconsider how they leverage their employees as supporters, or corporate ambassadors.
Recently, we’ve seen that internal communications rarely stay internal. For example, leaked audio from an internal Facebook Q&A session put Mark Zuckerberg in the hot seat, trying to explain his candid response to Elizabeth Warren’s proposals to break up big tech.
Zuckerberg decided to use the situation as an opportunity to practice what he preaches regarding transparency, not just to his employees but to the public, by livestreaming one of his next internal Q&As.
It was a smart move, because he can’t expect his employees to be corporate ambassadors if he himself isn’t acting as one and defending his beliefs. Also, as he noted, he’s not great at interviews but he does seem to be strong at rallying the troops internally. He used the internal meeting as a PR tool.
We have also learned of a tense environment at Google, where employees spoke up against a leadership decision to ban a game in their app store related to the protests in Hong Kong. Whether or not leaders want to introduce politics to workplace discussions is no longer up to them.
Even before employees voiced their dissent regarding the decision, Google updated its policies, banning employees from discussing politics at work unless it was relevant to company policy or working conditions.
These policies are important. They ensure that the guidelines and expectations the company has for its employees are clear. However, simply having a policy may not deter employees from voicing their beliefs.
How to Engage Corporate Ambassadors
Ultimately, leadership needs to set the appropriate tone for the company as it relates to employees acting as corporate ambassadors.
Ambassadors should embody the company’s beliefs. So the first step is making those beliefs or values clear. Corporate values should be shared widely and reiterated — starting at orientation and then on an ongoing basis across internal communications vehicles.
Second, companies need policies that outline where, when and how to engage in a dialogue related to corporate and/or political matters. If employees step out of bounds, it’s important to reign things in through all-hands meetings, as both Facebook and Google did, as well as with managers who can rally their teams more directly.
Lastly, it helps to include employees in the development of the corporate ambassador process and policies in order to get feedback from all layers of the organization and to adapt the policies and culture to the employee base.
It may not be a formal part of the job description, but every employee is a corporate ambassador. It’s up to companies to give them guidelines and information because they’ll find their voice with or without you.
Rum Ekhtiar is the founder and partner of Rum & Co.