What makes a strong employee value proposition?

Employee Value Propositions (EVPs) or, as is commonly used ‘employer brand’ are much talked about in HR but rarely understood, and arguably even more infrequently properly implemented.

The first thing to understand is that you can’t really completely control your EVP – it’s in the minds of every one of your employees and target employees.  There won’t be one perceived EVP, but a variety depending on the geography and the functional area.  That being said, it’s possible to influence the perceived EVP (and it’s not about putting posters up next to the coffee machine, creating a screensaver or distributing new mouse mats).

A successful EVP needs to meet 4 criteria:

It needs to be relevant

A good EVP needs to appeal to the target market.  It needs to meet functional needs but also to satisfy emotional needs and desires.

Most EVPs start, and unfortunately end, here.  The vast majority seem to be created in an aspirational way by senior HR execs or ‘outsourced’ to a recruitment advertising agency.  Research on the needs of your target markets is essential, for helping define an appealing proposition but also or the inevitable conversations with marketing to help them understand why your EVP needs to be different from the customer proposition.

It needs to be differentiated

Strong EVPs stand out from their competitors.  Ideally you want something that can only be from your organization.  There is no point emphasising your strengths if they are also the strengths of all your competitors. Research on the market’s perceptions of competitors (employment competitors not necessarily business competitors) is needed here.

It needs to be credible

For current employees this, we think, is the vital point.  The EVP that you communicate has to be seen as the truth.  It needs to be honest. Most people would laugh if told that a poster campaign could change their opinion of their partner – their view is set by the cumulative experiences made over a long period of time.  Yet, if you think about it this is exactly what most internal EVP campaigns try to do.  There is a difference though – most people probably spend more time with their employers than their partners!

EVP messages, especially to an internal market, need to reflect what employees see.  For the external market, too far a divergence from what is perceived is likely to be rejected.  Again, you therefore need to be talking to your target markets to understand their perceptions

It needs incorporate stretch

Does an EVP need to purely reflect current reality? No, it can and probably should incorporate an element of stretch. How, and where do these stretches come from? The most credible are probably the company strategy, goals and visions as communicated by the top level management.  However, line managers can also set their own visions for the working of the team and stretch the perception of the team members.  Ideally the overall company, and the team visions should align.

Things to remember when understanding how to strengthen your EVP:

The internal EVP is the sum of employees’ experiences with the organization

As noted, the EVP is created through a sum of experiences that the employees receive on a daily basis.  What does this imply?

To create a strong EVP it needs to run through every interaction between the firm and the employee.  As you want the employee to represent the overall brand to your customers, community and suppliers the EVP and company brand messages need to be aligned and complementary.  Certainly for HR the strong EVP needs to underpin every interaction with employees, and to help shape policies.  The head of HR should be the Chief of EVP implementation.

Organizations with strong values tend to have a lead here.  Some organizations place values at the core, using these to guide all decisions.  In these firms the EVP and the values will look remarkably similar.

The external EVP is heavily influenced by overall brand perception

In our research about 70% of the external EVP is defined by perceptions of the overall brand.  This makes sense; if your external brand is defined by peoples interactions with the company employees, and how these interactions are communicated, then it goes that how the company is perceived by employees is passed to potential employees.  Peoples’ perceptions of what it must be like to work for that organization are defined by the employees they meet.

In the absence of customer interactions, perceptions created by other sources – the media, the company’s brand positioning communications – help create the perceived EVP.

What does this imply? Our feeling and EVP implementation experience suggests that the propositions that are seen as most credible are those that link strongly to the external company brand.  Instead of trying to redefine people’s existing perceptions, an easier approach is to try and explain how the external brand perceptions translate into what it means to work for the firm.