An EVP defines what an employee receives from the organisation they work for in return for the effort and performance the employee gives. In a nutshell, the EVP is the “what’s in it for me?” as far as the employee is concerned. Metaphorically, it’s a carrot. Or, more optimistically, a bunch of carrots.

Organisations with well-developed employer brands have strong Employment Value Propositions (“EVP”s) which they communicate in both company actions and behaviours and which deliver both emotive benefits (e.g. “feel good factors” about working for them) and rational benefits (“this is an organisation that cares about my career development”) for current and prospective employees.

Organisations that become known as great places to work develop a strong ‘employer brand’: former, current and potential employees all know and rate the organisation for its employment practices, career opportunities and the overall employee experience.

There are two important caveats here: firstly make sure that your actions and behaviours – especially in recruitment – really do travel in parallel with your words. Being a caring organisation that takes every opportunity to nurture its employees doesn’t work so well as a marketing line when they get obviously standard email responses – or none at all – and the interview might as well have been conducted by a tape recorder playing the standard questions.

And secondly, just as you find candidates via social networks, candidates will talk about you too – and are probably more likely to when they find you more wanting than wanted. We live in an era of globalised, digitalised word of mouth. If your EVP is the reputation you aspire to have, your actions and behaviours are what maintain (or destroy) it. To illustrate, here are two short extracts from Andrew Gadomski’s excellent posting Own a Ferrari, but can’t drive stick posting at the Fireside Chats blog:

All the googling, hunting, twittering, blogging, myspacing, linkedin-ing (that one is hard to say) in the world is not going to close a hire for you. But guess what – neither did the cold calling, Monster crawling, careerbuilding, or yahoo-ing (this is getting fun). All these processes and tools just identifies [sic] the candidate. People take jobs for ALL kinds of reasons. But it’s rare that it has anything to do with how they were found. It’s about how they are treated.

Not to worry – candidates will be impressed with one key item. They will be impressed with the ease and ability to tell everyone via text, Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, blogs and so on that your employment process is weak. There is no fury…like a poorly treated candidate with social networking skills (I know – not as catchy as the other phrase).”

Don’t confuse your EVP with your company brand: the target audience for your EVP is not the people you want to buy your products or services, it’s the people you want to employ in the future, and the people you already do. (And an EVP isn’t just about recruitment: an excellent recruitment process that promises much will be quickly undermined by a working reality that fails to live up to the initial charm.) Maybe the two chime harmoniously, but maybe they don’t. McDonald’s – a company hardly thought of as a beginner when it comes to branding (although some of the global variations on it’s “I’m lovin’ it!” campaign made me smile, and its “That’s McDonald’s…and then some” was voted the second most irritating piece of British advertising likely to deter custom after the cards jingle in an independent March 09 survey) – seems to understand the difference. Here’s an extract from its Corporate Social Responsibility website:

High turnover rates are a challenge for any company in the foodservice industry, including McDonald’s. We understand how important it is to attract and retain the very best in our restaurants. Our Restaurant People Strategy is designed to offer a compelling employment value proposition by providing unique benefits, training and opportunities that meet the needs of today’s workers.

This will help us drive higher levels of employee commitment in the countries where we operate, which, in turn, will continuously improve employee retention rates. We believe progress on these fronts has improved – and will continue to improve- customer satisfaction and will positively impact our business results.”

EVPs reflect the image that organisations want to portray to their recruitment market: as Australian blogger Jared Woods puts it on his Professional Heretic blog, your Employer Brand and your EVP are “a vehicle for communicating promise to a market that [has] no exposure to the reality of working for you”. A company’s employer brand is reflected in the actions and behaviours of its leaders and is impacted by company policies, procedures, customs and practices.

How should organisations start going about identifying their EVP?

  1. Take time to understand your real SPs and USPs – don’t assume you know these. Ask the people who work for you, and allow them to speak freely (if necessary, use ‘neutral’ facilitators where that might dis-inhibit them: the point is to learn, not to be pointlessly flattered)
  2. Accept that you cannot be all things to all people – develop a signature EVP that attracts those who will thrive in your company
  3. Base your approach on what already existsdon’t throw out your values, mission and vision: build on them and align your EVP to them wherever possible
  4. Involve all key stakeholders from the outset – ensure the EVP is promoted internally and externally as consistently as possible

Why is developing an EVP important?
It is even more important for an organisation to have a strong EVP in the current economic climate for several reasons:

  • Retaining the right people and getting the most from them: a strong EVP will help you retain those employees who will ultimately deliver for the customer by living the brand and displaying their real engagement and loyalty. This also means higher performance levels and lower turnover rates for you – crucial in recessionary times.
  • Improving your external company image – a strong EVP will help to build and reinforce the public’s image of your organisation’s vision, culture, work practices, management style and growth opportunities, which in turn will help to support your corporate and consumer brands ( important at a time when competition for consumer loyalty is being sorely tested)
  • Attracting the right talent – even if you are not currently recruiting, you may well be before too long and a strong, positive EVP will ensure that your organisation has remained front of mind for that pool of job-seeking talent who are aligned with your company and believe in its vision, values, commitment to its employees and customers, ensuring those you do recruit are a ‘good fit’.

Case Study on Developing an EVP
The main objectives of EVP development are usually to improve talent attraction and retention rates, and to continue to (better) engage current staff. Accordingly, our brief for the EVP development process was to:

  • review core business (values, processes, policies and behaviours)
  • understand what makes the organisation a unique – and attractive – place to work
  • identify and prioritise any changes needed to strengthen the employer brand
  • capture all this as an EVP that can be communicated effectively to both internal and external audiences.

Our approach to this work was to immerse ourselves in the business by effectively becoming temporary employees – observing and experiencing employee life directly. This was supported with traditional qualitative and quantitative research techniques, including desk research, focus review groups, interviews and surveys across a representative sample of the business.

The data was then sorted into categories and analysed against the employee lifecycle. Working with the senior management team, HR, employees and franchisee representatives, we developed practical recommendations that built on the organisation’s existing values. These were then refined through employer-branding workshops with staff from across the organisation to distil our findings into key messages about what makes the business unique.

We quickly discovered what the secret was: the people! Employees enjoyed their jobs because of their colleagues: this is, of course, the positive flipside of an old adage – ‘people join companies but leave managers’. Effective, supportive and enjoyable working relationships are one of the pleasures of working; difficult or uncaring relationships one of its sorrows. We therefore focused on enhancing this experience across all levels of the business and the entire employee lifecycle to make it an even better place to work.

We developed an employer brand to form the foundation of their people offering, which we could then use to communicate the working experience to employees and potential recruits. We also developed a compelling and catchy strap line that ties to their corporate brand and is being used for all new recruitment literature and campaigns.

Other major initiatives are underway as a result of our recommendations in the areas of on-boarding and internal communications. Perhaps most significantly, however, a new EVP-branded recruitment portal can now be developed to operate alongside more conventional, hard-copy application processes.

Who owns the EVP within an organisation?
If an EVP is to have the best chance of becoming truly integrated with all the policies, practices and communications across the business, its development must involve a representative cross-section of stakeholders. It is especially important to have the senior management team, marketing, internal and external communications and HR on board from the start.

An EVP should also be aligned with existing organisational and brand values; having an EVP that sits in opposition to existing values that employees – and customers and suppliers – are already familiar with can only lead to confused brand perception, both internally and externally.

But it is not just the organisational values that you need to align with your employer brand and EVP; to be authentic; a company’s value proposition should also be reflected in all HR policies and practices at every employee’s touchpoint.

How we are seen and judged is a reflection of what we do and say, and the ways we do and say them. Or as Jared Woods put it,

When the recruitment requirements of companies begin to thaw, the employment brand of a company will be a strong determinant in attracting key staff. More importantly, it will play a huge part in your ability as a business to hold onto the key performers you need, when the downturn ends. Your brand needs to be robust enough to attract and retain with equal measure – getting them in the door is only a small part of finding and engaging the staff you need to succeed.

If you want ‘fast food for thought’, remind yourself that some staff that you value may be staying for now as the current job market gives them few opportunities to ‘sample from other tables’: as the economic recovery begins, this may not remain the case. Remember, an EVP is a promise: the point about promises is to keep them.

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