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The role of executives in employee engagement: Crossing your T’s and dotting your I’s

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In our #ciscosmt Twitter chat Aug. 20, we talked about how to engage employees in social media. On a very high level, I presented the pillars of our program: identify, activate, recognize and measure. And previously, I blogged about a potential framework you can use for your own Social Ambassador program (that’s what we call our employee engagement program at Cisco).

At the end of the session, I offered three key takeaways for companies interested in starting or improving their employee engagement programs (these are all Twitter-friendly nuggets):

Tip 1: Approach it from bottom up AND top down. Show execs why they should care and arm people with tools/training to participate #ciscosmt

Tip 2: Think long-term but celebrate the quick wins. Evangelize them to grow the program and create a sense of community #ciscosmt

Tip 3: Do not underestimate the power of employees. This is why/how we do it http://cs.co/CiscoSMPlaybook #ciscosmt

If you think of your general employee population in terms of the alphabet, think of your employees as almost-complete T’s and I’s, and your executives as the people who can help cross  those T’s and dot those I’s. Why? They can help open doors for you. They can help support and evangelize your efforts, thus bringing in more participants and driving social media adoption deeper into your company. But where do you start?


1. Understand them: Learn what executives care about and speak their language. Last year we interviewed a few executives on why and how they engage in social media.

2. Arm them: Show the value of companywide engagement and let your executives know why you are doing this and how this is going to benefit the company, the team, and them:

  • If you are just starting out, share success stories from other companies.
  • If you recently started your program, find a pilot program/group to partner with and share their success.
  • If you have been at it for a while, keep bringing success stories to your executives.

3. Engage them: Engaging them may not necessarily mean asking them to use social media themselves although it’s a very big plus.

  • At a minimum, executives should understand the impact they can create by allowing and encouraging their teams to participate in social media. Of course, having active executives in social media is the icing on the cake (and a whole other blog topic…).
  • Partner with an executive to pilot your program with his or her team. Outline the program plan with milestones and metrics, and explain what the engagement will entail.
  • Help your executives and their teams become successful in social media. Make it easy yet meaningful for them to participate. Training, consulting, pre-written, sample social content, and specific instructions on how to participate can all help.

4. Find a champion: This is a big one. You may only have one executive champion initially. There are different ways you can go about this:

  • Invite them to a social media session with your team’s executive and/or plug your program into existing executive information sharing programs to raise awareness.
  • Take notice of executives that tend to be supportive of your efforts, ask questions and/or want to learn more.
  • Do a search on which executives may already have public social media profiles or might be open to having them. This indicates natural interest in social media.
  • Conduct exploratory meetings with them, their executive communications managers and/or direct reports about your initiative. If you can tie social engagement to a larger initiative that the executive cares about, more power to you. Build relationships with their assistants, executive communication managers and direct reports as they can help advocate for your program…and ultimately encourage the executive to become your champion.
  • Just ask!

5. Ask them:

  • Ask them to share your case studies, send communications and otherwise raise awareness of your program widely.
  • Ask them to recognize and highlight the efforts of team members who are participating in your Social Ambassador program.
  • Ask them to evangelize your program and successes with their peers and even superiors.

6. Support them:

  • Provide them with regular updates and anything they may need to be successful.
  • Be available to help them as needed.
  • Anticipate their needs whenever you can.
  • And make them look good and their efforts appreciated!
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