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Ep 573: The Power Of Employee Value Propositions

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Employer Value Propositions are potent tools that attract talent, retain talent and shape the future of organizations. However, we don’t talk about EVPS enough, and they are regularly confused with Employer Brands when they are discussed. So, what are the benefits of an effective EVP, and do you define one?

My guest this week is Vicki Saunders, Founder of The EVP Consultancy. Vicki is a highly experienced expert in this field and has worked on EVPs in-house at Currys, BAE Systems and Boots. She has a vast amount of knowledge to share, and this is an absolutely must-listen episode.

In the interview, we discuss:

• The difference between EVP, Employer Branding and Recruitment Marketing

• The value to employers of an effective EVP

• Strategic workforce planning and building the future of the organization

• Supporting DE&I

• Where should the responsibility for EVP sit?

• Authentic, Differentiated, Resonating and Future Focused

• Pillars are proof points.

• Measurement

• Internal Comms and Employee Experience

• The role of technology

• Anticipating the future and evolving

Listen to this podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Transcription:

Matt: Support for this podcast comes from Greenhouse. In today’s competitive hiring landscape, taking a people first approach is business first. That’s why Greenhouse helps companies adopt a flexible, fair and efficient approach to hiring. Greenhouse empowers everyone, from recruiters to hiring managers, to make confident decisions that help strengthen your business so you can get measurably better at hiring. Discover how Greenhouse can help you hire for the kind of business you want to build. Learn more at greenhouse.com/hire. That’s Greenhouse dotcom slash hire.

[Recruiting Future Podcast theme]

Matt: Hi there. This is Matt Alder. Welcome to Episode 573 of the Recruiting Future Podcast. Employer Value Propositions are potent tools that attract talent, retain talent and shape the future of organizations. However, we don’t talk about EVPS enough, and they are regularly confused with Employer Brands when they are discussed. So what are the benefits of an effective EVP, and do you define one?

My guest this week is Vicki Saunders, Founder of The EVP Consultancy. Vicki is a highly experienced expert in this field and has worked on EVPs in-house at Currys, BAE Systems and Boots. She has a vast amount of knowledge to share, and this is an absolutely must-listen episode.

Hi, Vicki, and welcome to the podcast.

Vicki: Hi, Matt.

Matt: It’s an absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Please could you introduce yourself and tell me what you do?

Vicki: Yeah. So I’m Vicki Saunders. I’m the founder of the EVP Consultancy. Literally launched the business last week. I’ve decided to set up business on my own after 10 years on employer branding, and EVP and employee experience in big organizations. So Boots, BAE Systems and Curry’s. Yeah, I’ve recently launched a consultancy which is called the EVP Consultancy, and it’s all about supporting organizations to create powerful EVPs in house. So the way that works is that I partner with them and create a bespoke methodology for them depending on their strategic goals, but also their culture and also their own capability in house. So I flex around those three things and offer training, mentoring, and what I call a helicopter option, where I can join the organization and support with whichever aspects of the EVP they would like, so that could be focused group facilitation, or it could be market insight gathering, that kind of thing. So yeah, that’s me. That’s what I do.

Matt: Well, congratulations on the new business. And yeah, I think EVP is a very good place to start because I think there’s still a lot of confusion out there about what an EVP actually is, what it isn’t, and how you define one. Tell us your definition of EVP and how it’s different to employer brand.

Vicki: So when I talk about EVP, I tend to talk about chocolate bars, which might sound a slightly strange analogy, but it’s really helped me in different organizations be able to illustrate what the difference is between the different concepts, particularly for people outside HR. So essentially, I think of an EVP as being like a naked Mars bar. So it’s the pure chocolate bar that’s made of milk chocolate, nougat and caramel. So it’s already had some design that’s gone into it. So it’s already three components that have been brought together to make the Mars bar.

Then when you want to go out to market, Mars obviously puts a wrapper on it, so it has that black wrapper with the red logo. And that gives the product a personality and an identity. And I see that as being the employer brand. It’s how you create latent desire for that product and build affinity for that brand. And then when you see Mars bars in supermarket alongside, it’s competing against the bounties and the crunchies of the world, isn’t it? That’s for me is like recruitment marketing. That’s when we’re putting vacancies out on job boards and competing against other employers to be able to attract talent. So for me, that’s the difference between the three.

Matt: I love that analogy. When you said naked Mars bar, I was imagining a Mars bar with no chocolate on it. I went one stage further.

[laughter]

Vicki: No, it just means it didn’t have a wrapper.

Matt: [laughs] No, that makes perfect sense. I think that’s a great way of describing it. What value does an effective EVP drive for an employer? And also, very interesting market at the moment for talent, what kind of issues can it address?

Vicki: Yeah. So I feel like EVP is a little undercooked in many organizations. So EVP as a term has evolved from customer value proposition to becoming employee value proposition. And customer value propositions are right at the center of a commercial strategy of an organization. If you don’t have a customer proposition, you’re lost. It’s bonkers, isn’t it? It’s like to think that there are organizations who don’t have an EVP. It’s a bit for me like walking into Dragon’s Den or Shark Tank as it is in the US without a proposition to be able to attract and retain talent. So I do think it’s pretty undercooked.

But for that power to be unlocked, I think the EVP has to be totally joined up to the customer proposition. By which, I mean, if you as an organization know that you want to grow your business in a certain direction strategically, then the EVP should be an enabler of that because you should use it to build the workforce and the capability of the future of the organization, not the organization you have today. So I think a lot of the time, EVP is primarily seen as an attraction tool and it does attract, there’s no getting away from that. But if you think about it from more of a strategic workforce plan point of view, that’s when I think it really does get powerful. So it can do attraction, but it really should be doing retention as well, because if the EVP isn’t designed to look at what’s going to be sticky about, what’s going to keep people in the organization, then the churn will remain, even if you’ve attracted them brilliantly in the first place.

The other thing, Matt, that I think is probably a relatively new thing in EVP is, I was talking about those workforce demographics and the future of the capability in the organization, is absolutely EVP can support your DEI agenda. So when I’ve done EVP work in the different organizations, yes, we’ve looked at what are the skills we want more of in the future, etc., etc., but we’ve also looked at the workforce demographics and said, “You know what? We’re an engineering firm. So yeah, we might have a heavily male dominated workforce.” But is that where we want to be in the future? Do we want to attract more women into engineering, for example? And actually, that was the crux of the business case for the EVP work at BAE Systems was around addressing those workforce demographics more so than it was about attraction or attrition, to be honest.

Matt: I think that’s really interesting. And you obviously mentioned strategic workforce planning there, the importance of the EVP to lots of talent objectives or even commercial objectives within the organization. Where should responsibility for it sit? Who should be in charge of it in an ideal world?

Vicki: I think EVP about 20 years, maybe 15 years ago, tended to sit in reward COEs, because it was very much about the given the get in quite a transactional way. EVP is much more rounded than that, much more holistic now because expectations of employers are much more to do with purpose and values and belonging and development. So it used to sit there. Then I think is the labor market over the years has got more challenging, EVP seems to have moved over to TA as a function because of that need to use it for attraction. EVP should have a joined-up approach in an organization. So there should be a project team that brings the COEs together, because that’s how you’re really going to unlock the power of it is by using it to weave across the vertical strands of COEs, whether that’s wellbeing, reward L&D, TA, ER, it’s all of them. Do you know what I mean?

So for me, I don’t want to dodge the question, but it’s about having a team on it, a really clear steering group, because if you want to do that weaving, you need everybody to be involved. And once you’ve got the EVP and it’s been well crafted, it should act as a compass in the organization to be able to hold up, each time you’re making a decision about where to invest money or resource and be able to say, does that fit with the strategic direction we set out in the EVP or not? And so truly, the whole of HR needs to be bought into the EVP in order for it to act as that guiding compass and be powerful.

Matt: That’s really interesting. I think it also reflects a lot of what’s going on in the talent space at the moment crossing so many different parts of HR and the business. I know some companies at least are rethinking their structures and breaking down silos to be able to work together on those things. Talk us through the core elements of an EVP.

Vicki: There is some principles around EVP that I think are critical to EVP success. And to me, they are about, the EVP has to be authentic, which won’t be a particular surprise, I’m sure to lots of people listening to this, but it really must be an accurate representation of the experience of working for that employer. It has to be differentiated. I think lots of organizations almost walk into EVP worrying about whether they’ll achieve that differentiation point. I’ve done EVP work, like I say, in retailers where there are hundreds of other brands that you’re competing against for talent equally in engineering. It’s very difficult from a commercial point of view to put a piece of paper between one organization and other because they are so, so similar. But it is possible. It is totally possible to be able to find things which are differentiated. So I would encourage people to really hold true to that being one of the principles of the EVP.

It also has to resonate. You’re going to have various people in the organization. So let’s say you’ve got a workforce of 50,000 people. It’s not going to resonate with all of them at exactly the same level, but there should be an aspect of the EVP that should resonate with all. And then underneath that there will be different pillars or content themes that resonate more with one group than another. And that’s how I think it works.

The last bit of principles is future focused. And I know, Matt, you’re really big on this. It’s about being clear about what is shifting anticipating trends, future of work trends, digital trends, societal environmental trends, and being really mindful of that when you’re developing the EVP that you don’t just develop an EVP for this year, but it has got a view towards anticipating what’s going to change in the future.

Matt: How do you express an EVP once you’ve got that strategy together? How do you communicate it? Also how does the activation of it work?

Vicki: An EVP architecture tends to look a bit like an overarching statement that goes across the top. So maybe it’s just one sentence, it could be as short as three words, it could be eight, but it’s just a really clear statement of that promise of the EVP. Usually, there’s a narrative more fleshed out version of that. And then further underneath that, we have what we call pillars. Now pillars sometimes get a little bit confused with themes, subthemes, subcategories. And they are thematic, but actually they should be proof points that support the overarching proposition. They shouldn’t just be pretty themes that then turn into things that you speak off wrote about type thing. They really do need to be substantiated in proof points within the organization of how that thing is true, and that then it has that really solid foundation. That’s why we call it a pillar rather than just a theme.

Matt: Yeah. And what about activation?

Vicki: Activation, I think, should be holistic. So it should internally weave across all of the strands of the employee experience. The different touch points, the different moments that matter. It should absolutely bring together everything from an internal commerce point of view, but also just some of those touch points, digital or otherwise, it should be present in your HRAs, on your internet, on any social platforms that you use internally, all of those kind of places. It should feel like it’s a thread that’s run across all of it. But then externally, obviously, employer brand is a key activation method for an EVP, but that should also still be holistic.

What you say in your employer brand should mirror what you say from a corporate commerce point of view. So if you’ve got your CPO standing up at a conference, speaking about a certain subject, it should be the same things which are within the pillars of the EVP that you’ve brought to life through your employer brand.

Matt: And what role can technology play in all of this?

Vicki: There’s a couple of things here. EVP, I was talking earlier about how it needs to be anticipating the future. It’s no good just anticipating it. You then, once you’ve anticipated, need to evolve with it. And so I think technology plays a role because a lot of the time these days quite rightly, our listening strategies are supported by technologies. So there are ones like Qualtrics, Glint, Gallup, all of those which are brilliant at helping us keep the finger on the pulse of what people are thinking and feeling in the organization. That’s one of the things that certainly helps us from a tech point of view.

Activation then more broadly into advocacy, for example, is probably one of the most powerful things you can do to activate your EVP. And there are some amazing tech platforms out there now that support advocacy, make it easier for employees to be able to talk about the organization in the public domain, on social media, etc. But then also measurement. So I get asked quite a lot about, how do you measure an EVP? I always say, you can measure the activation activity on the one hand. But that’s only part of a story map. That’s only saying we had this much engagement from this particular channel that we used for activation. What we need to be able to do is join those insights about the activation together with the insights from our HRAs system to see whether it’s actually changing thoughts and feelings and turning them into changes in behavior.

So for example, I was talking earlier about attracting more women into engineering. What you’d want to be able to see when you activate your EVPs, on the one hand being able to see whether engagement within the target group works. So is there more engagement from women than there was before? But also, is that turning then into higher number of applicants into the role? Is it turning into within the organization, greater internal mobility, greater career progression, more women moving into leadership roles within the organization? So it’s that combination of the two together. And that’s where technology really helps us because we can bring in different data streams to be able to get a holistic view of the full impact of the EVP.

Matt: Absolutely. So final question. What do you think the future looks like for EVP, for employer branding? Where are we going next with this?

Vicki: If I was going to say it in one word, it’s people centric. We can’t get away from that. That is absolutely how the world is moving in the same way as customer experiences are all about thinking about it from the customer’s point of view, first. It’s exactly the same for us, for EVP, employer brand, etc. So the EVPs that will be most powerful going forward are the ones that do continue to evolve in line with changing expectations, wants and needs of employees. So that absolutely will be how that plays out.

From an employee experience point of view, I think it’s already pretty people centric. But I think it’s quite limited in its scope at the moment. So you’ll hear lots of Ex[?] professionals and talk about moments that matter and those are absolutely true. That is 100% brilliant design thinking to be able to evolve employee experience. But what often happens is that, people will focus on pain points within the experience and find ways to eliminate or alleviate those pain points in the experience, which is almost like just Stage 1. What I’ve done in previous organizations is try and say, “Well that’s great, but where have we got opportunity to include delight points?” Not just think about removing pain, but how do you introduce delight as well? And for me, the places where you would want to put delightful moments that matter and reelevate and up your game in your employee experience are exactly into the pillars of your EVP. Those should shine bright above and beyond the rest of the experience, if that makes sense.

And then lastly, on employer branding, again, people centric. There’s been a massive trend in the last 8, 10 years in consumer marketing around emotional marketing. There’s some beautifully crafted campaigns that have been done by consumer brands that really spark an emotional reaction with the audience. And that builds relationship because you’re provoking a feeling and that feeling turns into affiliation, it turns into trust. And so I’m starting to see that in employer brands. I was a judge on the RAD’s here in the UK last year and a couple of the winning entries were emotional marketing campaigns. They’re the ones that give you hairs stand up on the back of your neck, you get a little lump in your throat, you find yourself trying to swallow because wow, that’s powerful stuff. So to me, it’s all people centric, but that’s how I would see it playing out in those three areas.

Matt: Vicki, thank you very much for joining me.

Vicki: No problem. Thanks, Matt. It’s been brilliant.

Matt: My thanks to Vicki. If you’re a fan of the Recruiting Future Podcast, then you will absolutely love our monthly newsletter, Recruiting Future Feast. Not only does it give you the inside track on what’s coming up on the show, you can also find everything from book recommendations to insightful episodes from the archives and get first access to new content that will help you understand where our industry is heading. For a limited time, subscribe to the Recruiting Future Feast newsletter and get instant access to the video recording of the recent remixed webinar on AI and talent acquisition featuring some of the smartest thinkers in the industry. Just go to mattalder.me/webinar to sign up. That’s Matt Alder dotme slash webinar.

You can subscribe to this podcast on Apple podcasts, on Spotify or via your podcasting app of choice. You can find and search all the past episodes at recruitingfuture.com, and don’t forget to sign up for the newsletter, Recruiting Future Feast. Thanks very much for listening. I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me.

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