In a previous article on employer branding, I outline how to run an employer value proposition (EVP) process as part of creating your employer brand.
In this article, I’ll go a bit deepers and focus more on ongoing work and research around the concept of an EVP, how to display it out into the world and in your day-to-day work, as well as a bit more commentary on how employee demands have changed in recent times.
- EVP Vs Employer Branding
- Ownership Of EVP And Employer Branding
- Being Unique/Telling Your Story
- How To Live And Breathe Your EVP?
Employer Value Proposition Vs Employer Branding—Is It Versus?
Often I’ll read articles focusing on EVP or employer branding, but not both. But, in reality, these are two sides of the same coin, and one without the other is just not complete.
Let's define each first.
Your employer value proposition is what value employees get when they work for you. Think of it like an employer promise: what will someone working here get for what they will give?
This comprises both tangible and intangible things. For example, both the annual leave allowance and the "experience" of working with your specific team are part of your EVP.
What an EVP is not, is the company brand or an exhaustive list of perks and benefits tacked on at the end of a job description.
Employer branding, on the other hand, is everything external: videos, campaigns, job descriptions etc. Employer branding stems from your EVP, but it's mostly aimed at talent attraction and often falls under recruitment marketing.
A compelling EVP goes further, helping create a great company culture, and branding and recruitment marketing advertises the benefits of joining to the right candidates. This is why, whenever I read around the topic, I read up on both employer branding and EVP articles to inform my decisions.
It's part human resources and part marketing, in essence. Your employer brand is not just the banners, logos, videos, etc, it's the full experience and feelings potential candidates have when they interact with your company.
This comprises things that they interact with along their journey as a potential candidate, such as:
- The clarity of the content helps the candidate understand both the company and the job description
- Their experience of candidates speaking to talent or to the hiring team
- The accessibility of the application process
- The type and frequency of communication they receive throughout the process.
It’s a lot more involved than just making sure you have a few videos and not something every company is ready for. It's something you may have to build up to.
Ownership Of Employer Value Proposition And Employer Branding
Employer branding (EB) was initially coined as a term by two branding executives—Barrow and Ambler. Even though they were marketing gurus, they admitted that employer brand strategy belongs with HR as the ultimate owners. And, since employer branding stems from the EVP, it all goes under HR.
There have been some whispers about where EVP belongs more recently—is it with the marketing team? With the CEO? Since it's the distillation of the employee experience HR (or HR plus the CEO) should own this. However, ownership does not mean that HR gets to define it solo.
The EVP embodies your company culture, guides it, and permeates through your whole company like DNA.
Therefore, it’s definitely not just for human resources to figure out. They can perhaps lead the discovery and the formation of it, but it's not a PowerPoint HR presents to the company out of nowhere.
Ideally, the EVP process should be led by the whole of the senior leadership determining what kind of company they want to create (top-down) and also what kind of company the current employees want to work for (bottom-up).
This is how you discover your DNA and if there are any gaps in the ideals of both groups.
Being Unique/Telling Your Story
Think about how current marketing strategies are shifting. Most people have moved past the types of advertising that just list off a bunch of benefits demonstrating why this oven cleaner is the best oven cleaner around (a-la Ad Men from the 1950s).
People want to connect with a story and a narrative that is relevant to them. Similar expectations are being levied onto the EVP and employer branding too.
This is why strong EVP should mainly stem from and start with the story:
- Why do you exist?
- What problem do you solve?
- Why do you in particular need to solve this?
- How did you start solving this problem?
Just like with my previous article, I also do want to caution you from trying to be "too authentic". I remember the time when brands tried to go after memes in their Twitter feeds and the internet collectively responded with:
I usually put advertisements on a scale somewhere between pretentious perfume ads, with one word spoken and lots of billowy curtains, and the late-night TV commercials for revolutionary non-stick pans that break all words-per-minute record.
Aim to be somewhere in the middle and stay true to the kind of company you want to build!
My number one piece of advice to get started in creating an EVP: read as much as you can on HOW to create one, but do not read other people's.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of endlessly reading listicles of "the best" or "the top" EVPs, but, in reality, two things will happen if you go with that approach:
1 - You will be reading the employer brand only, nothing about how the company is living and breathing the EVP day-to-day or how they distilled it.
2 - You may subconsciously end up copying them. This is how we end up with every company around the world including "customer obsession", "speed/moving fast/being quick" and "learn every day💪" as part of their EVP and branding.
And that is such a shame! Almost every company out there has something different and unique about it, be it the origin or the way of work or the setup, or even how the teams show up for each other.
However, often I see it boil down to just another channel to market to customers and yet another missed opportunity for you to speak to your target audience (your employees and your candidates/prospective candidates).
How To Live And Breathe Your EVP?
Here are a few ideas on how to make sure that the ideals of your EVP become reality.
I'd first start by ensuring that the leadership and all team leaders are fully briefed and truly understand the ideals and values of the company.
I like leading by example, so usually I collect a few leaders to walk them through and talk about how we want to encourage X behavior and how that relates to the X value, always making sure to connect it to the EVP.
I also like to talk to both team leaders and individual employees about any human resource/talent initiatives and explain how they are always led by specific areas of the EVP.
This way, the whole company can see that HR, as the owner, lives and breathes the EVP in everything from how we communicate to candidates to what our benefits are.
Then I like to create small shout-outs and reward spaces for people who embody specific values.
This can be done over your HRIS or Slack (or, if you have the budget, make them tangible rewards!).
I also like weaving them into the company presentations like all-hands or town halls. These really drive the point home and highlight examples in front of everyone on what has really helped propel us forward towards the EVP and the vision of the kind of company we want to be.
Lastly, I also create a values angle in the performance reviews to reward or call out behaviors we want to see.
This is a super-prescriptive and non-exhaustive list of a few of the steps you can take to embed some of the values that drive your EVP, and even the corresponding vernacular, into the lived experience of everyone in the company.
In most companies I have been in there has been a lot of talk about talent acquisition, but let's not forget that the current employees are one of our greatest assets and creating a great employee experience is one of the greatest hiring tools you have at your disposal.
Making sure they understand, engage, and identify with the values will really help the employee turnover and you will turn employees into evangelists.
Explaining And Telling Before You Show
Usually, book, film and TV critics hate "telling not showing", but, in an EVP setting, you have to always explain and tell before you show. Let me give you an example.
The word collaboration—we all know what it means right?
collaboration /kəlabəˈreɪʃn/ noun
- the action of working with someone to produce something.
However, when you start putting it into practice, we start seeing that everyone has a slight difference in the actual execution of collaboration.
Is it that everyone needs to know every step at the same time early on e.g. Product consults with Operations, Finance, Legal, and Sales for every update to the product at all times, just in case there are things that affect the other?
Or is it having one meeting at the start of a sprint with the relevant stakeholders for each ticket and then consulting with others as and when needed?
Although this is a very specific and operational example, I hope it illustrates the need to define what each of these terms like collaboration, learning, growth, etc. mean to you and your company.
I am always a fan of creating a tagline for each of the values/rules of engagement and then a short blurb to explain them—what it means in this company and why it's important.
This is how you go beyond the blasé and into the territory of "this is something of our own" and, consequently, make a compelling EVP that a potential employee will keep coming back to.
A Bit Of Meta Commentary—Shifting winds
In my humble opinion—yes, there is, but it's not as bad as it could be.
We are just dealing with generations that have public outlets for their discontent. Your company can either decide to dismiss them as the complaints of a few or take a stand and listen to what the issues are.
This is how, for example, the hospitality industry everywhere keeps signaling that they don't have enough people and Amazon is "running out of workers".
One look at the news, or even Reddit, and you see it's full of stories of people being exploited and treated badly in those industries.
With the rise of social media, people can now share stories and realise it's not just them that are being treated like this.
The resurgence of unions in the US is a clear signal that employees do not feel like they have enough say, let alone power without collective action.
I’m quite lucky to be in the UK where employment laws are a bit more stringent, and they’re more stringent still in continental Europe, but bad faith employers will always find a way to skirt the laws.
So the world is all doom and gloom, right? Wrong!
A time of change is always scary but knowing where you stand in relation to the change will be vital.
To borrow a Japanese Proverb (according to the internet at least) The bamboo that bends is stronger than the oak that resists.
Being on top of your identity as an employer and updating it appropriately with changing times can be your key to not just putting up a front of being a great employer, but actually being one.
This is not to say that you need to change everything about yourself overnight. After all, as much as Amazon now wants to be "the best employer in the world", a company culture of 20+ years focused on nothing but employee productivity, and treating warehouse workers as replaceable, is not going to change by rewriting their leadership values and recording a few videos of the ZenBooths.
There will always be people who want to come in for a paycheck and leave. They will be fantastic workers and I don't want people to start thinking that "dedication" means doing the company chant every Monday morning!
However, by and large, expectations prospective employees have from companies are changing. Here are some new factors employees take into account when evaluating their employer:
- Stance on social issues—response to wars, women's rights, LGBTQ+ etc.
- Ethical conduct
- Positive contribution to society—Facebook got a really massive backlash precisely because of this with a large exodus and had to double salaries to keep people
- Attitude towards employees
If you find yourself being forced to keep making decisions that are best for the company, but don't align with the EVP/values, maybe it's time to change the business expectations or the EVP!
The major shift in how you think about the EVP is not about how it relates to your employees as workers but as people! As people here are some of the new feelings employees seek:
Some of the above may seem like they are the same thing, but have a read again and see that there is a difference. For example, feeling valued doesn't always mean reward. Leaving people with the sense that they are valued unlocks a whole new range of opportunities other than just raising salaries.
The employer value proposition doesn't need to be a complex problem, but it is by no means simple to create.
By going too idealistic you can end up falling short of promises and leaving people disillusioned. You don't want to turn into a revolving door!
On the other hand, if you set your company goals that are not at least a bit of a stretch and aspirational you are selling yourself short!
Remember, the EVP is not for the board to read, it's not for the investors to "aww" at, it's for you to set the rules of engagement at your company and for your team to live and breathe every day.
Pay attention to any shifts in the zeitgeist and decide if you need to react, make the employee experience matter!
More resourced to help you attract, source and hire the right talent for you:
- The Key To Focused, Engaging Interviews (+ Template)
- Candidate Sourcing Tips To Help You Find The Best Talent
- How To Create A Great Candidate Experience (Even Through Rapid Scaling)
- How To Hire Remote Employees And Tap Into Global Talent
- 10 Best Applicant Tracking Systems For Recruiting In 2022
- 10 Best Online Recruiting Software Of 2022