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Could employee networks be the key to great EX?

Emma Bridger

26 May 2023
Employee Experience

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‘Employee networks and champions’ was the focus for our latest EX Space webinar, which took place this week and attracted a diverse audience from as far afield as Greece and the US.

Emma Bridger and I have been fans of champion networks for quite some time and have helped organisations of all shapes and sizes recruit, develop and nurture various types of employee groups. The session reminded me, however, just how powerful they can be.

After a quick intro from me, Emma walked us through the topic and the science underpinning it.

Involve me

We started with involvement as an enabler of employee engagement and the importance of employee voice. Put simply, the more people feel they can contribute to the success of the organisation and the more they feel their views count and are heard, the strong the level of engagement. Networks actively support both.

We talked about belonging, inclusion and diversity and how employee networks can provide a powerful platform for employees with diverse backgrounds, experiences or identities to connect and support each other.

We heard about the rise of influencers and the impact of ‘popularity bias’ – something you can read more about on Emma’s latest People Lab blog. If everyone’s doing it, it must be right? It seems FOMO is a thing inside organisations too!

We then discussed Dr Leandro Herrero’s brilliant book, Viral Change, and the fallacy of what he calls ‘tsunami change’ – those typical big, top down, heavily communicated change programmes which usually fail. Instead he advocates a behavioural approach where by small groups of highly connected employees spread change by demonstrating change and ‘infecting’ the rest of the organisation. It’s fascinating and compelling stuff – highly recommended!

The need for networks

Moving on to the practicalities, we discussed the need for networks to have a compelling purpose and for the members of those groups to have clearly defined roles and responsibilities. Emma shared a useful role profile for an engagement champion. We discussed success criteria and the importance of nurturing the group, sometimes going as far as providing formal training.

We were then joined by three guest practitioners who talked about their own ‘real world’ experiences developing and running employee networks.

There were a number of big takeaways for me, notably:

  • Networks need nurturing. Simply creating a network is no guarantee of success, they need to be supported with varying degrees of TLC (time, learning, cash) You have to work hard to create a safe space for people – this doesn’t always happen naturally. Groups need guidance and leadership, a clear purpose and a shared agenda.
  • Networks need to be flexible. Networks evolve over time and need to adapt to changing circumstances. The remit of the group might change and the role that its members play might change too. There is a need to refresh the team from time to time, to maintain momentum and energy. Networks can live on beyond their initial purpose and evolve into something different over time.
  • There’s no one size fits all. Employee networks come in many shapes and sizes. They can be formal or informal – they can come with explicit role descriptions and comprehensive training or can be looser and less ‘guided’. They can comprise people who have been sought out and hand-picked, or who have volunteered themselves.
  • Members matter. Whether they are proactively recruited or self-selecting, having the right people to be part of the network is key. And sometimes it pays to have someone who is vocal and, perhaps, even negative on board – if you can ‘convert’ them they will become your most passionate advocate. If you want real influencers you need to identify them – whether it’s through hardcore research like Social Network Analysis or simply based on asking around.
  • Networks amplify employee voice. They are not an excuse for practicing lots of other forms of organisational listening, but networks can be a powerful additional way to give employees a voice and ‘tune into’ the real organisation.

Big thanks to our special guests

Lucy C., People Director at tech-for-good company Brain in Hand
Karen Notaro Assoc CIPD, Head of Engagement & Wellbeing at HM Courts & Tribunal Service.
Ruth Patel MCIPD, Chair of the Crown Prosecution Service Carers Network.

Thank you for your time and your valuable insights.

It was a great session and it’s a subject we shall return to again and again once we launch The EX Space. Indeed, there will be a variety of resources available at launch to support you with the development of effective employee networks.

If you missed the webinar you can catch up below.

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