Ally Strategy, Power Map, Ambassadors… How can transformation processes be ‘industrialized’ while creating a climate of trust? How can ambassadors be identified, unified and engaged? What are the best practices for rewarding them and making them feel valued? How can their impact on employees’ adoption of new approaches be measured? These are the key questions we discussed at our last Inside Success Lab, the first laboratory of ideas dedicated to successful business transformation, where we collectively define the best practices that lead to the success of transformation projects. This article summarizes the answers to these questions shared with our members.
Why do we need ambassadors?
Cultural changes, managerial changes, organizational changes, and changes to the IT system or business lines – the issues currently facing companies during transformation periods are increasingly cross-cutting, and the top-down approach no longer results in sustainable employee engagement. Instead, employees have become much more sensitive to peer recommendations. Identifying, choosing and unifying in-house ambassadors is now an essential part of these projects’ change management plans.
What is an ambassador?
Although different companies use different definitions, one thing that everyone agrees on is that an ambassador is an employee who supports the transformation, helps drive it forward, and has influence over their peers. This final point is crucial, as without influence, an employee acts as an ally, but is not an ambassador. An ambassador’s role is to lead the community towards supporting the project. They need to understand its short-, medium- and long-term objectives.
Some aspects of a transformation project will be positive, and thus easy to tackle, while others will be more difficult. Ambassadors need to be able to deal with these more complicated elements. When it comes to digital transformation, people often tend to focus on seeking out employees with an interest in the digital world. Although some members of the circle think that these have to be “digital natives”, others see no link between interest and age.
The employees’ potential, their connection with the values that the company wants to instill and the fact that they are already working on the issues in question are also used as selection criteria. However, some companies choose ambassadors who are not directly linked to the topic to ensure they hear an original point of view that could challenge everything – right down to the basics. In other organizations, ambassadors or digital champions are volunteers who work very informally. For these businesses, it’s crucial that the role of ambassador doesn’t limit employees in any way. They have no commitments in terms of output or time, and they remain extremely free.
Ambassadors can also be segmented depending on the type of project, their organization, their markets, and their sales cycles. For example, a major bank decided to segment by the type of issue it wanted ambassadors to solve (training, data, the sales process, etc.) – a clever way of creating a network of excellence.
Whatever the role involves, clarity about the initial contract – the rights and duties – is crucial. An ambassador’s mission, rights, and duties must be crystal clear.
All participants at the Lab agreed that, to sum up, an ambassador’s role is one of information distribution, that they should embody the vision and goal of the project, and that their aim is to get teams on board.
What makes a good ambassador?
The first criterion is the desire to take part. They have to be motivated and believe in the project. A great ambassador isn’t necessarily someone who excels in their job. A good ambassador doesn’t always have to be someone who’s been behind the project from the very beginning, either. People who weren’t sure at first but are now avid supporters make excellent ambassadors. Employees will be sure to listen to them. The statistics from the InsideBoard platform are clear: ambassadors are read 10 times more often than non-ambassadors.
This means that it’s crucial to choose your ambassadors carefully and to take the time to recruit and train them. For example, the management of a French group that wanted to involve its employees in the co-construction of its strategic plan provided its ambassadors with remote training. They also received a weekly toolbox with an advance preview of all the relevant information, as well as a kit featuring key issues for the week and recommendations on how to digitally reach out to their community. With an average of five contributions from each employee in six months on a topic as complex as the company’s strategy, the results have been extremely positive. The project is currently being rolled out with new ambassadors.
The sensitive topic of dedicated time
It’s often the case that ambassadors have influence and credibility but lack time. In most cases, their role as an ambassador is in addition to their main work. Should a specific amount of time be set aside within their working hours? On short-term projects, occasional time slots can be set aside – half a day per week for six months, for example. Some companies also organize hackathon days. As for the long term, the approach will be different and this issue can be addressed as part of the ambassador’s goals. For example, succeeding in their mission as an ambassador can be one of a manager’s bonus criteria.
The very sensitive topic of incentives
All members agree that ambassadors need to feel valued. If no bonus is offered, it’s therefore important that recognition comes in another form. Some companies are currently considering paying their ambassadors for this role, others work using a system of gamification (earning points/badges), and still others put the focus on visibility within the company and independence. Another good practice that was shared is the organization of free learning expeditions specifically for ambassadors, which are highly appreciated because they make employees feel valued outside of the company and boost their employability.
For some Lab members, the ideal approach would be for companies to make the role into a permanent position. For example, a major French industrial group is currently looking at not only determining the added value of its CRM tool and digitalizing all of its community activity, including ambassador management, but it is also considering what concrete steps it can take to incorporate the ambassador experience into employees’ career paths. However, making the role into a permanent position also has its disadvantages. While peers’ opinions have value, a professional change manager won’t have the same influence as they did when they worked at the same level as their colleagues.
How can desire and motivation be maintained after the roll-out stage?
Transformation is a cycle. While it’s relatively easy to motivate people during the start-up phase, issues often arise in the period that follows. 75% of projects fail because the initial energy later fades away. This is a key reason for ambassador turnover. This turnover is natural – some ambassadors just don’t play their part from the very beginning, and so they need to be replaced. Just under a third of ambassadors really fulfill their role. Some are ‘good’, but struggle to keep up or otherwise get caught up in a new project that doesn’t leave them enough time to carry out their original mission. Making changes to the team of ambassadors over time is an essential requirement for a successful transformation project.
There are also different stages to every transformation. During the post-launch stage, other roles and other professions are needed. The role of ambassador has a set lifespan, after which the time comes to hand over the role to others. Some companies even set a timeframe from the beginning. This lets ambassadors know that they’ll only be a change agent for two years, for example. After this time period, those who want to remain involved can take part in the project’s digital community. However, having time-limited roles is problematic for ambassadors who receive a bonus for their work.
The overall consistency of the project, a specific and modest aim, and good governance all help to maintain the troops’ attention in the long term.
How can community management be industrialized?
Identifying, segmenting, recruiting, unifying, training, and engaging – all of these steps are key to successfully creating a strong transformation-focused community within a company, but managing them all can nonetheless be very demanding for the project team. Given that on average, you need 10% of employees to act as ambassadors to get 80% of their colleagues on board, this soon means that groups have to manage hundreds of people, if not thousands. Industrializing the process is essential for success.
Thanks to the digital world and new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, this is now possible. And that’s what InsideBoard offers, as the first AI platform for change management. By observing employees’ behavior via success indicators specific to the role of the ambassador (built into the platform and using data related to usage, social engagement or any other aspects relevant to the project), project teams can identify people with the greatest desire to help, measure their engagement and manage their impact on the adoption – and the performance – of new practices.
With features such as simple content creation (such as social media posts) and smart recommendations (learning system), the platform allows companies to take a personalized approach to engage their ambassadors.
The Inside Success Lab meets every trimester. To find out more and be co-opted into the circle: