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Coworker Advocacy: How To Adjust Corporate Narratives

Advocacy only happens when coworkers believe the narrative.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

How do you approach cowork­er advocacy?

Ensuring cowork­er advocacy is easi­er said than done. 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.

And 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.

The Sales Analogy

In a com­pany, who is respons­ible for sales?

The CEO” would, of course, be a per­fectly reas­on­able answer. If a busi­ness ain’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 look to 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 has a sat­is­fied cus­tom­er refer­ring new cus­tom­ers. So, isn’t a product- and ser­vice deliv­ery a cru­cial com­pon­ent of long-term sales suc­cess? Again, 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.


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 is typ­ic­ally held account­able — and so is the Communication Department. 

But from here, the logic often breaks down.

Communication is Everyone’s Concern

Like everything in a busi­ness relates to sales, everything a busi­ness does or says is com­mu­nic­a­tion. Selling is in itself a highly spe­cif­ic and tar­geted form of com­mu­nic­a­tion. Leadership is a form of com­mu­nic­a­tion. Products or ser­vices are in 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. The res­ult is top-down com­mu­nic­a­tion intern­ally and con­flict­ing mes­sages extern­ally. this is a recipe for quickly erod­ing cowork­er and cus­tom­er trust. And this is how busi­nesses become stale, and brand val­ues are giv­en a false echo. 

It’s a tox­ic brew, to be sure. 

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 to com­ply with laws and reg­u­la­tions. Most cowork­ers know that 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? For non-profits, com­mu­nic­a­tion often becomes the most cru­cial tool 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 over­all com­mu­nic­a­tion of the com­pany or organisation? 

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 some­thing that oth­er organ­isa­tion­al func­tions can­not bring to the table — authenticity.

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. And estab­lish­ing such a cul­ture is a lead­er­ship challenge.

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

If cowork­ers neg­lect their respons­ib­il­it­ies as advoc­ates, 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? There might be an idea 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 get nar­rat­ive-spe­cif­ic train­ing which is highly enga­ging and reward­ing — and 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.

Thank you 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.

Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing it with oth­er PR- and com­mu­nic­a­tion pro­fes­sion­als. For ques­tions or PR sup­port, con­tact me via jerry@​spinfactory.​com.

Bonus Resource: The Social Objects Workshop (SOW)

Types of Social Objects

To pro­mote word-of-mouth for your brand, you need ideas about what social objects to cre­ate con­tent around.

Social object = a spe­cif­ic top­ic that people talk about with each oth­er. A social object could be a thing, a per­son, an event, a concept, an idea, etc.

For your brand, there are dif­fer­ent types of social objects:

  • Curiosity objects. What do people seem curi­ous about with­in our brand’s sphere of influ­ence?
  • Fear objects. What do people seem afraid of with­in our brand’s sphere of influence?
  • Gap objects. What con­cepts or vocab­u­lary is miss­ing with­in our brand’s sphere of influence?
  • Mystery objects. What do people find mys­ter­i­ous with­in our brand’s sphere of influence?
  • Inspirational objects. What do people find inspir­a­tion­al with­in our brand’s sphere of influence?
  • Envy objects. What do people seem to envy with­in our brand’s sphere of influence?
  • Conflict objects. What do people seem to be fight­ing about with­in our brand’s sphere of influence?
  • Ego objects. How do people express their indi­vidu­al­ity with­in our brand’s sphere of influence?
  • Anger objects. What do people seem angry about with­in our brand’s sphere of influence?

Workshop idea: In the first half, spend a few minutes on each type of social object. Write each idea as one sen­tence on a Post-It start­ing with, “Have you heard…”. In the second half, run through the ideas, dis­cuss­ing, “Is this some­thing real people would say?”

Read also: 9 Types of Social Objects and How To Use Them for PR

💡 Subscribe and get a free ebook on how to get bet­ter PR ideas.

Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Cover Photo

The cover photo has nothing to do with public relations, of course. I share for no other reason that I happen to enjoy photography. Call it an “ornamental distraction”—and a subtle reminder to appreciate nature.

The cover photo has


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