The Public Relations BlogPublic RelationsInternal CommunicationsCoworker Advocacy: How To Adjust Corporate Narratives

Coworker Advocacy: How To Adjust Corporate Narratives

Advocacy only happens when coworkers believe the narrative.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

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How do you approach cowork­er advocacy?

As a com­mu­nic­at­or, get­ting your col­leagues to under­stand, appre­ci­ate, and engage in cor­por­ate com­mu­nic­a­tion has always been a tall order. Forcing or coer­cing cowork­ers into promp­ted advocacy is often uneth­ic­al, some­times even illeg­al — and gen­er­ally a bad idea regard­ing the actu­al outcomes.

Settling for just explain­ing the value of com­mu­nic­a­tion to non-com­mu­nic­a­tion pro­fes­sion­als is often a vain pursuit.

There must be anoth­er way to encour­age cowork­er advocacy.

Here we go:

The Sales Analogy

In a com­pany, who is respons­ible for sales?

Of course, the “CEO” would be a per­fectly reas­on­able answer. If a busi­ness isn’t selling, the CEO must be held accountable.

The CEO, in turn, might look to the Head of Sales. The Head of Sales must pro­duce res­ults and report back to the CEO. The Head of Sales might ask the Sales Department to share the burden. 

But what if HR was respons­ible for recruit­ing the Head of Sales — and the whole sales team? Isn’t, then, HR respons­ible for sales per­form­ance as well? If HR does a lousy job recruit­ing, don’t they share at least a little responsibility? 

What about cowork­ers work­ing with order ful­fil­ment in some capa­city? The best sales pitch argu­ably involves a sat­is­fied cus­tom­er refer­ring new cus­tom­ers. So, isn’t product and ser­vice deliv­ery a cru­cial com­pon­ent of long-term sales suc­cess? Again, this is a per­fectly reas­on­able assumption.

What about cus­tom­er ser­vice? And what about all oth­er sup­port func­tions ensur­ing cus­tom­er sat­is­fac­tion and oper­a­tion­al excel­lence? What about research- and devel­op­ment? Aren’t R&D crit­ic­al to even hav­ing products or ser­vices worth selling?

The short answer is: Yes, they are. They all are. 

Communication and coworker advocacy

The logic seems clear. In any busi­ness ven­ture, every­one is respons­ible for sales. Each cowork­er car­ries the respons­ib­il­ity — albeit at vary­ing degrees and in dif­fer­ent ways! — but they all do. 

Most busi­ness-minded pro­fes­sion­als get this intu­it­ively. No mat­ter their role in the busi­ness, they under­stand that the com­pany must make money to make payroll. Some roles struggle with prov­ing their worth con­cern­ing the sales pro­cess, but even these people under­stand the import­ance of sales. 

Now, let’s flip the nar­rat­ive over to communication:

Oops.

Communication is typ­ic­ally one of those func­tions in an organ­isa­tion where it’s chal­len­ging to demon­strate a dir­ect effect on the bot­tom line. Still, the CEO is respons­ible for how the busi­ness com­mu­nic­ates, and the Head of Communication, as is the Communication Department, is typ­ic­ally held accountable.

But from here, the logic often breaks down.

Communication is Everyone’s Concern

Like everything in a busi­ness relat­ing to sales, everything a busi­ness does or says is com­mu­nic­a­tion. Selling is itself a highly spe­cif­ic and tar­geted form of com­mu­nic­a­tion. Leadership is a form of com­mu­nic­a­tion. Products or ser­vices are them­selves communication.

In short, com­mu­nic­a­tion con­cerns every­one and everything in a busi­ness. However, many cowork­ers can­not see their part in the com­mu­nic­a­tion process.

Whereas cowork­ers under­stand that a busi­ness must make money to make payroll, many think of com­mu­nic­a­tions as the sole respons­ib­il­ity of the Communication Department. This is a slip­pery slope. 

A few people, often near the top, might care greatly about com­mu­nic­a­tion, while the rest of the organ­isa­tion does­n’t. This unbal­ance might over-emphas­ise monophony.

The res­ult is top-down intern­al com­mu­nic­a­tion and con­flict­ing mes­sages extern­ally. This is a recipe for quickly erod­ing cowork­er trust. This is how busi­nesses become stale, and brand val­ues are giv­en a false echo. 

A Specific Communication Problem

Overall, this type of chal­lenge is unique to com­mu­nic­a­tions and HR. 

The leg­al depart­ment, for instance, does­n’t have this prob­lem; cowork­ers intu­it­ively under­stand that they are indi­vidu­ally respons­ible for com­ply­ing with laws and reg­u­la­tions. Most cowork­ers know they can­’t just dis­miss com­pli­ance with, “That’s some­thing for the leg­al depart­ment to deal with; it’s not my concern.” 

Marketing, too, gets a free pass due to its close rela­tion­ship to dir­ect sales.

What about non-profit organ­isa­tions, then? Communication is often the most cru­cial tool for non-profits to achieve organ­isa­tion­al suc­cess. In such set­tings, the nar­rat­ive that “com­mu­nic­a­tion is the sole respons­ib­il­ity of the com­mu­nic­a­tions depart­ment” becomes even more detrimental. 

So, how can com­mu­nic­a­tions address the issue of cowork­ers not see­ing them­selves as par­ti­cip­at­ory and respons­ible for the com­pany or organ­isa­tion’s over­all communication? 

Tenets of Coworker Advocacy

The first insight is often the most over­looked: Few cowork­ers have been briefed on their actu­al role in advocacy.

Because let’s face it — advocacy is rarely clear for any­one except the CEO. 

Is it about answer­ing emails promptly? Is it about respect­ing and par­ti­cip­at­ing in activ­it­ies cre­ated by the com­mu­nic­a­tion depart­ment? Is it about keep­ing up to date with the latest PowerPoint out­lining “core val­ues” and “elev­at­or pitches”? Is it about act­ively shar­ing the organ­isa­tion’s stor­ies on social media? Or is it about some infringe­ment on free­dom of speech to get every­one speak­ing in uni­son for the organ­isa­tion’s great­er good? 

Well, no. That’s not how cowork­er advocacy works.

Communication brings authen­ti­city to the table that oth­er organ­isa­tion­al func­tions can­not bring to the table.

Your cowork­ers might be at fault for not recog­nising their com­mu­nic­a­tion respons­ib­il­it­ies, but for­cing com­pli­ance will only make them less use­ful as advoc­ates for the organisation.

Without authen­ti­city, all com­mu­nic­a­tion breaks down. 

Coworker Advocacy = Culture and Leadership

It’s simple:

Coworkers must want to be great com­mu­nic­at­ors.
Coworkers must want to go the extra mile.

They want to endorse their work­place, products, and ser­vices — not because they care about their employ­er, but because they care about their friends. 

Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like rid­ing a bicycle or typ­ing. If you’re will­ing to work at it, you can rap­idly improve the qual­ity of every part of your life.”
— Brian Tracy

For authen­t­ic advocacy, cowork­ers must be invited, engaged, and promp­ted, but nev­er coerced or ordered. Establishing such a cul­ture is a lead­er­ship chal­lenge. This is the essence of the poly­phon­ic com­mu­nic­a­tion approach.

In con­crete terms, lead­ers and com­mu­nic­at­ors must give their cowork­ers an authen­t­ic and inspir­ing way of talk­ing about the organisation.

If cowork­ers neg­lect their advocacy respons­ib­il­it­ies, they’re not on board with the cur­rent narrative.

Adjusting the Cultural Narrative

To adjust these nar­rat­ives and pro­mote a more open mind­set towards com­mu­nic­a­tion, I’d sug­gest using this framework:

Authenticity > Culture > Collaboration > Accountability > Maturity

Authenticity: What’s the actu­al nar­rat­ive? The idea might be that com­mu­nic­a­tion is already a cost, and the rest of the organ­isa­tion should be shiel­ded from fur­ther waste. In a way, these cowork­ers are “pro­tect­ing” the organisation.

Culture: How do we change the nar­rat­ive? To replace an exist­ing nar­rat­ive, cowork­ers deserve a bet­ter nar­rat­ive that works bet­ter for them than the exist­ing one. “I am a sales­per­son and a bet­ter com­mu­nic­at­or than my competitors.”

Collaboration: How do we rein­force the nar­rat­ive? Coworkers must receive nar­rat­ive-spe­cif­ic train­ing, which is highly enga­ging and reward­ing and provides a safe space for prac­tic­al experimentation.

Accountability: How do you sup­port the nar­rat­ive? Coworkers must get pos­it­ive feed­back that is dir­ect and clear whenev­er the new nar­rat­ive is applied suc­cess­fully. Positive rein­force­ments typ­ic­ally work best.

Maturity: How well do our nar­rat­ives work? The organ­isa­tion must meas­ure com­mu­nic­a­tion matur­ity to meas­ure pro­gress and identi­fy new or emer­ging harm­ful narratives.

Thanks to Catrin Johansson, Professor in Organizational Communication at Mid Sweden University and Co-Founder of KIX Communication Index, for valu­able feed­back on this blog post.

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Thanks for read­ing. Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing art­icles with oth­er com­mu­nic­a­tions and mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­als. You might also con­sider my PR ser­vices or speak­ing engage­ments.

PR Resource: Monophony and Polyphony

Monophony and polyphony in public relations.
Monophony and poly­phony in pub­lic relations.
Spin Academy | Online PR Courses

Monophony and Polyphony in Public Relations

The oth­er day, Professor Catrin Johansson invited me to an aca­dem­ic brief­ing at Mid Sweden University, where Associate Professor Rickard Andersson from Lunds University presen­ted new research stud­ies. The study invest­ig­ated how vari­ous pub­lic organ­isa­tions con­veyed their mes­sages stra­tegic­ally. 1Andersson, R., Heide, M., & Simonsson, C. (2024). Slutrapport: Kommunikativa offent­liga organ­isa­tion­er –Strategisk kom­munika­tion som byg­ger rela­tion­er och förtroende. Institutionen för … Continue read­ing

I found one aspect of the ana­lys­is espe­cially intriguing:

The research­ers bor­rowed two terms from music­al com­pos­i­tion to aid their ana­lys­is: mono­phony and poly­phony. Note that poly­phony has also been used in lit­er­at­ure ana­lys­is. 2Polyphony (lit­er­at­ure). (2024, January 9). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​P​o​l​y​p​h​o​n​y​_​(​l​i​t​e​r​a​t​ure) 3Mikhail Bakhtin. (2024, February 19). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​M​i​k​h​a​i​l​_​B​a​k​h​tin

Based on my under­stand­ing of these con­cepts, here’s how I would define them:

Monophony = when an organ­isa­tion con­veys stra­tegic mes­saging with one voice. The mono­phon­ic approach offers numer­ous bene­fits, includ­ing nar­rat­ive focus and stra­tegic consistency.

Polyphony = when an organ­isa­tion con­veys stra­tegic mes­saging with mul­tiple voices. The poly­phon­ic approach offers numer­ous bene­fits, offer­ing authen­ti­city mul­ti­plied through many con­tact surfaces.

The strengths of one approach can be char­ac­ter­ised as the weak­nesses of the oth­er, and vice versa. At first glance, the mono­phon­ic and poly­phon­ic approaches to pub­lic rela­tions seem inversely cor­rel­ated — at least theoretically. 

In prac­tice, the poten­tial dicho­tomy isn’t apparent:

Monophony isn’t neces­sar­ily strengthened by sup­press­ing poly­phony, and vice versa. The hard prob­lem in cor­por­ate com­mu­nic­a­tions is facil­it­at­ing both approaches — sim­ul­tan­eously! — and hav­ing them amp­li­fy each other.

One com­mon mis­in­ter­pret­a­tion seems to be that lack of mono­phony leads to caco­phony, i.e. an organ­iz­a­tion filled with noise. However, as sev­er­al research­ers have argued, there is anoth­er altern­at­ive – namely, the poly­phon­ic com­mu­nic­a­tion approach (Schneider & Zerfass, 2018), which gives room for the inclu­sion of mul­tiple voices and the com­bin­a­tion of “diversity and unity with­in a coher­ent entity” (Christensen et al. 2008, p. 195). The poly­phon­ic approach comes with a decent­ral­ized struc­ture which is a much bet­ter match to the ambi­tion to encour­age employ­ees to engage in the organization’s com­mu­nic­a­tion.“
Source: EUPRERA (European Public Relations Education and Research Association 4Simonsson, C. (2021, May 7). Shifting to a poly­phon­ic com­mu­nic­a­tion approach – a pre­requis­ite for turn­ing employ­ees into engaged com­mu­nic­at­ors. EUPRERA. … Continue read­ing

How can an organ­isa­tion ensure both mono­phony and poly­phony at the same time?

Learn more: Monophony and Polyphony in Public Relations

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PR Resource: The 3 x 3 Intranet Model

The 3 Pillars of an Intranet - Doctor Spin - The PR Blog.
The 3 pil­lars of an intranet.
Spin Academy | Online PR Courses

The 3‑by‑3 Intranet Model

The 3 Intranet Pillars

When eval­u­at­ing or set­ting up an intranet, it’s cru­cial to focus on its core functionalities: 

  • Messaging. Messaging is the core com­mu­nic­a­tion func­tion of an intranet, encom­passing all forms of digit­al mes­saging, includ­ing emails, instant mes­saging, and chat rooms. It’s the primary tool for day-to-day com­mu­nic­a­tion with­in the organisation.
  • Meeting. This aspect of the intranet involves schedul­ing, man­aging, and facil­it­at­ing meet­ings with­in the organ­isa­tion. It includes cal­en­dar man­age­ment, video con­fer­en­cing tools, and resources for vir­tu­al collaboration.
  • Filing. Filing refers to stor­ing, organ­ising, and retriev­ing doc­u­ments and oth­er digit­al assets on the intranet. This includes doc­u­ment man­age­ment sys­tems, digit­al lib­rar­ies, and databases

This tri­ad forms the back­bone of any effect­ive intranet, cater­ing to the most fun­da­ment­al needs of an organ­iz­a­tion. Each of these com­pon­ents plays a vital role in the func­tion­al­ity and effect­ive­ness of an intranet. When well-executed, they work togeth­er seam­lessly to sup­port the organ­isa­tion’s com­mu­nic­a­tion, col­lab­or­a­tion, and inform­a­tion man­age­ment needs.

The Three Dimensions of an Intranet - Doctor Spin - The PR Blog.
The 3 dimen­sions of an intranet.

The 3 Intranet Dimensions

In the con­text of an intranet, com­mu­nic­a­tion typ­ic­ally occurs in three primary dimen­sions: top-down, bot­tom-up, and horizontal. 

  • Top-down. This dimen­sion refers to the flow of inform­a­tion from the high­er levels of the organ­isa­tion’s hier­archy to the lower levels. It typ­ic­ally includes offi­cial announce­ments, policy changes, organ­isa­tion­al updates, and stra­tegic directions.
  • Bottom-up. This is the upward flow of inform­a­tion from lower-level employ­ees to the man­age­ment and lead­er­ship teams. It encom­passes feed­back, sug­ges­tions, con­cerns, and insights from the staff.
  • Horizontal. This type of com­mu­nic­a­tion occurs among employ­ees at the same level with­in the organ­isa­tion­al hier­archy. It involves exchan­ging inform­a­tion, col­lab­or­at­ing, and shar­ing know­ledge among peers.

By effect­ively lever­aging these three dimen­sions of com­mu­nic­a­tion, an intranet can become a power­ful tool for enhan­cing trans­par­ency, col­lab­or­a­tion, and over­all organ­isa­tion­al effi­ciency. Each dimen­sion com­ple­ments the oth­ers, cre­at­ing a com­pre­hens­ive com­mu­nic­a­tion eco­sys­tem that bene­fits the entire organisation.

Learn more: The Intranet: The Unsung Hero Amongst PR Channels

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ANNOTATIONS
ANNOTATIONS
1 Andersson, R., Heide, M., & Simonsson, C. (2024). Slutrapport: Kommunikativa offent­liga organ­isa­tion­er –
Strategisk kom­munika­tion som byg­ger rela­tion­er och förtroende. Institutionen för strategisk kom­munika­tion,
Lunds uni­versitet.
2 Polyphony (lit­er­at­ure). (2024, January 9). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​P​o​l​y​p​h​o​n​y​_​(​l​i​t​e​r​a​t​ure)
3 Mikhail Bakhtin. (2024, February 19). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​M​i​k​h​a​i​l​_​B​a​k​h​tin
4 Simonsson, C. (2021, May 7). Shifting to a poly­phon­ic com­mu­nic­a­tion approach – a pre­requis­ite for turn­ing employ­ees into engaged com­mu­nic­at­ors. EUPRERA. https://​euprera​.org/​2​0​2​1​/​0​5​/​0​7​/​s​h​i​f​t​i​n​g​-​t​o​-​a​-​p​o​l​y​p​h​o​n​i​c​-​c​o​m​m​u​n​i​c​a​t​i​o​n​-​a​p​p​r​o​a​c​h​-​a​-​p​r​e​r​e​q​u​i​s​i​t​e​-​f​o​r​-​t​u​r​n​i​n​g​-​e​m​p​l​o​y​e​e​s​-​i​n​t​o​-​e​n​g​a​g​e​d​-​c​o​m​m​u​n​i​c​a​t​o​rs/
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwerhttps://doctorspin.net/
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at Spin Factory and KIX Communication Index. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.
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