If you’ve noticed that more and more companies are starting to refer to their employees as ‘owners,’ you may wonder why this trend has taken off.

In 2016, it was reported that nearly 10,000 companies in the US had become substantially or wholly employee-owned. This switch has been cited for the amazing positive effect it’s had for companies; studies have noted that with this change, turnover decreases, the company grows faster, and satisfaction with management goes up. Even entire communities can benefit.

However, it’s important to note that you don’t have to wait to be able to offer stock options to employees before you can reap the benefits of an ownership mindset. Leaders can create positive change and a culture of empowerment by recognizing, fostering and nurturing internal brand ambassadors. Afterall, no other group of employees has such powerful influence over brand reputation, talent attraction, and corporate culture.

Understanding Internal Brand Ambassadors – How to Identify Them

Of course, the first step to harnessing your internal ambassadors is to identify who they are and what makes them tick. While each company may have its own criteria, there are a couple of key traits that tend to be true across the board.

Specifically, internal brand ambassadors are those who regularly:

  • Share their thoughts and ideas about how the company could improve.
  • Think about your company and/or their role, even while they’re not at work, and comes in each day, brimming with inspiration to share.
  • Advocate for your company online, for example, by sharing content related to your initiatives or brand among their social networks.
  • Attend events or volunteer their time on behalf of the company.
  • Ask questions directed at discovering new ways they could be more effective or helpful.
  • Talk about the brand, and may engage internal branding experts or managers to ensure they’re on track.

Hopefully as you mull over these qualities, at least a handful of people come to mind.

This group makes up your company’s internal brand ambassadors.

Supporting Brand Ambassadors – What You Can Do To Help Them Flourish

This cohort of employees is already demonstrating that they’re enthusiastic, curious and engaged. Therefore, the most important thing you can do is take advantage of this positive energy to ensure it keeps momentum and is pointed in the right direction. In short, you need to nurture the relationship. With that, there are a variety of ways you can support your ambassadors, which will, in turn, result in additional brand advocacy.

For instance, one way could include setting up a recognition program that is clearly intended to reward ambassador behavior, such as sharing suggestions for improvement, or flagging issues. Being open to suggestions and taking a solution-oriented approach to problems often helps companies create an atmosphere of trust and transparency. This also empowers employees to recognize each other for such behavior, which helps maintain the momentum of such an initiative – it doesn’t always have to come from management.

Some companies also put concrete opportunities in front of their employees, such as paid volunteer days. By allowing individuals to go out into the community and support worthwhile initiatives, not only are you helping the individual feel good about what they can accomplish, but you’re also aligning your brand with their ability to do so, and the positive community impact they’re creating.

Another option may be to offer an employee referral program, where employees who refer highly-skilled and qualified candidates to open postings may receive an incentive, if their referral gets hired.

The point of any of these initiatives is to reward employees who give back to the company and help champion the brand, so think about your own group and what would appeal most to them.

Leadership Is Crucial To Creating Brand Advocates

It’s important not to underestimate the impact that your support programs can have on your people. However, this method of leadership requires a fair degree of trust in your employees, and this can be challenging for some managers.

To those who are on the fence, I’d argue that more often than not, when you enable your employees to take greater ownership over their roles and exercise influence in the company, they’ll surprise you in positive ways. We benefit the most by encouraging diversity of thought and allowing others to express their unique thoughts.

As a leader, there are many ways to be ‘hands on’ without having your fingers in every business deal. For instance, in my experience, one of the most effective means of encouraging brand advocacy and checking organizational health is to have one-on-one time with various members of your staff. Express your genuine interest in how people are and what they love most about being at your company, and you’ll build strong, meaningful relationships.

When people have strong relationships with the leadership team, they’re more likely to be brand advocates. Another fringe benefit is that this also has a positive impact on internal culture, which in turn may inspire other potential brand ambassadors to take up the torch.

In The End, The Effort To Support Your People Is Always Worth It

We live in a time when the expectation of working at one company until retirement seems unrealistic, however, this doesn’t mean that companies should take a back seat and passively watch people come and go.

You can extend the longevity of your employee’s careers at your company, and the enjoyment and satisfaction they get from working with you. You can encourage them and empower them, so they begin to feel more like owners than employees. In short, you can support them and influence their conversion to brand advocates. Even though it may not be easy, I promise you it’ll be worth it.