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Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs Also Works For Employee Engagement

Countless hours have gone into planning for digital transformation, yet its actual execution is easier said than done. It’s not the technology causing roadblocks either. It’s how leadership approaches digital transformation with their own teams.

Successful transformation relies heavily on having a healthy and engaged culture. Then, and only then, can employee advocacy deliver true business value.

Getting employees from top to bottom to become advocates is critical to any digital strategy, and it’s easily the most difficult part. It’s a company-wide imperative that strikes at the heart of the brand’s culture. If engagement behind the firewall is suffering, employee advocacy will never work.

For an advocacy program to be successful, it needs to be able to answer a tough question that will be top-of-mind for your employees: What’s in it for me?

In 2014, HR Zone published an article that adapted psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to explain employee engagement in the workplace. I have adapted it yet again to take into account the next level of engagement—employee advocacy.

At the bottom of the pyramid, Maslow’s basic needs are food and shelter. For an employee, survival is paying rent. At the peak of Maslow’s pyramid is self-actualization and reaching one’s full potential. For an employee, it’s a connection to the company’s mission and a sense of inspiration.

Maslow’s hierarchy is an excellent way to think about a company’s relationship with its employees, as well as the employee’s motivation to become an advocate. Let’s take a closer look at each stage of the pyramid as it relates to engagement level, working our way up from the bottom to the top.

Survival = Disengaged
These employees are here simply for a paycheck. They come in late, leave early, and often cut corners. They don’t enjoy their work or understand why it matters to the overall business. They are most likely interviewing elsewhere.

Employee advocacy potential: Zero. Attempting to enlist is likely to backfire.

Security = Not Engaged
These employees do what’s expected of them, but nothing else. They don’t speak up in meetings. They most likely don’t feel supported or recognized by managers and colleagues. They probably subscribe to LinkedIn job updates.

Employee advocacy potential: Low motivation to be active and positive.

Belonging = Almost Engaged
These employees like their jobs and have camaraderie with their teams and co-workers. Still, they’re not sure how their roles contribute to larger company goals. They take pride in where they work but don’t quite tell others about it yet.

Employee advocacy potential: Ripe and ready, but silent without further support and encouragement.

Importance = Engaged
These employees understand their roles in helping the company achieve its goals. They know what’s expected of them, and they know they have the tools and support to get the job done. They’ll immediately appreciate and leverage content that ties to their goals and objectives and share it in their personal social channels.

Employee advocacy potential: Very high as long as they’re provided with content and tools that map to their functions and business goals.

Self-Actualization = Highly Engaged
These employees have made the company’s mission their own. They inspire others, and they love the company, its products, and their co-workers. They’re already sharing their enthusiasm and telling the company story in their own words.

Employee advocacy potential: Unlimited! Identify these people now because they’ll blaze trails for your program.

Next Steps
It’s important to realize that not all of your employees will reach self-actualization, and that’s OK. A good benchmark is that 1% to 10% of your employee base has the potential to become brand advocates.

But don’t forget about the other 90%—they still matter, even if some never become advocates. With the right nurturing, they could move up the hierarchy ladder, which is critical to the future and health of your business. As they become more engaged, these employees will produce a higher quality of work, which, in turn, can result in a better product or service, new innovations—and a new army of brand advocates who are inspired to tell the brand story.

For any employee advocacy program, there are three important steps to consider before you begin activating your employees to be brand storytellers:

• Operationalize a plan: Sounds intuitive, yes. But leaders who skip this step often find themselves scratching their heads, wondering why their program isn’t what they initially expected it to be.

A solid plan involves training so that employees can understand how to engage the right way externally. It involves mapping different types of employees—including executives, salespeople, subject matter experts, and even customer service representatives--to desired behaviors and outcomes. It involves asking (sometimes quite persuasively) for budgets and buy-in from different groups, such as human resources, internal communications, IT, and legal.

• Align the narrative: As much as employees should have their own voices, there should be some alignment with the overall brand narrative. The last thing you want is for employees to do and say everything you tell them to.

That said, while you want to ensure they find their own voices and feel free to talk about whatever they want, they should have a general understanding of the brand’s value proposition so when they are talking about the company or its products, there’s alignment.

• Invest in the right technology: For most, investing in technology is the first decision. But not so quick. As a part of the planning process, leaders must do their due diligence and ensure the technology stack they are researching meets the right business and technical requirements.  

Suffice to say, meeting employee needs is always important for recruitment, retention, and quality of work. The advent of digital business transformation, social media, and employee advocacy has only raised the stakes. Be sure to identify your engaged employees and work to develop more of them. When they recognize what’s in it for them, you won’t be able to hold them back.

The result will be an army of brand advocates who you can unleash into the marketplace to surround your customers with credible and trustworthy content. 

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