It’s easy to see why the recruiting industry is excited about employer branding. Aside from the very tangible hiring results an effective employer brand can drive, it’s a proactive approach to recruiting that allows organizations to maintain top-of-mind awareness among passive candidates. Without the proper guidance, however, an employer branding initiative can easily come off the tracks, costing your organization big bucks without delivering results. The Employee Value Proposition (EVP) can provide that guidance, but it’s important to understand what an EVP is and how to properly create one.
What is an Employee Value Proposition?
There is no standard definition of an EVP, but we’re partial to the explanation penned by Andrew Collett in a 2014 article for Edelman:
“The EVP serves to define what the organization would most like to be associated with as an employer and defines the “give and get” of the employment deal (the value that employees are expected to contribute with the value that they can expect in return).”
In other words, an Employee Value Proposition answers two very basic questions:
- What the individual candidate or employee can expect of the company.
- What the company expects of the individual candidate or employee.
Why do I need an Employee Value Proposition?
Ok, so you understand what an EVP is, but what makes it so important to your recruiting efforts? A lot, actually.
- It’s the bedrock of your employer brand. The dirty secret about Employee Value Propositions is that, whether or not your organization has created one, it has one. Everything you say and do to recruit or retain talent reflects on your organization and serves as a de facto EVP. Rather than figuring it out piecemeal as you create individual employer branding materials, take the time to define your EVP and ensure it aligns with what your target candidate audiences are looking for. The payoff will be a formalized strategy that will guide your employer branding efforts moving forward.
- It can improve recruitment and retention. Both current and prospective employees are looking for more than a great salary and benefits. Job seekers put more emphasis on a company’s culture and mission than compensation, while LinkedIn’s 2016 Talent Trends Report found that only 29% of respondents left their last job because of unsatisfactory compensation and benefits. A well-established EVP will help you articulate what your organization can offer beyond the usual salary and benefits.
- It can save you money. Disengaged employees are costing you money. Per Gallup, a staggering 70 percent of American employees are either not engaged or actively disengaged, and this lack of ownership is costing businesses as much as $550 billion per year. A clearly defined Employee Value Proposition and employer brand can be effective tools for exciting, engaging or re-engaging your existing employees. Sitting down with them during the information gathering phase (more on that in a minute) will provide them an opportunity to speak their minds and demonstrate the organization values their opinions. Companies in the Gallup study that reported high levels of employee engagement experienced 22 percent higher profitability, 21 percent higher productivity 10 percent higher customer engagement, 25 percent to 65 percent lower turnover, 37 percent lower absenteeism, 28 percent lower shrinkage (theft) and 48 percent fewer staff safety incidents. The next time someone tells you HR is a cost center that doesn’t contribute to the bottom line, point them toward the research, laugh and then hand them the EVP.
- It can help differentiate your organization. In an economy with six million open jobs, recruiters may find the tables unexpectedly turned on them. The number of people interested in a position with your company will vary due to a host of factors, but it’s clear that job seekers have options. To stand out in a crowded market, your organization must differentiate itself from other offerings, and once again, a clearly-defined EVP will help it do just that.
What does an Employee Value Proposition look like?
The format your EVP will take is largely a matter of organizational preference — and we’ll take a look at a few potential formats in just a moment — but let’s start with a real-world example to ensure we’re all working from the same reference point.
HP’s Employee Value Proposition
"HP helps great people grow. We develop strong leaders who trust and respect our people, give them opportunities to stretch and achieve, and reward those who focus on the customer, drive innovation and help HP win."
This is a great example of the short-and-sweet approach. While this is from an older presentation, HP does a terrific job of explaining what’s in it for the employee (leadership development, opportunity, rewards) and what HP expects in return (customer focus, an innovative drive and a focus on helping HP succeed). Now that we know what an Employee Value Proposition is and why we need one, let’s explore how an EVP is created.
How do I create an Employee Value Proposition?
Developing an Employee Value Proposition should not be an exercise in guesswork. An effective EVP will be shaped by feedback sourced directly from current and prospective employees and optimized to ensure organizational goals are being met. We’ve distilled the process into a five-phase procedure — from research and analysis through implementation and beyond — that will help you develop an effective Employee Value Proposition.
Phase I - Discovery
Before you can craft your EVP, you must understand the audience with which you’re communicating. What do prospective employees expect from an employer? What do your current employees love about working for your company, and what would they change if given the opportunity? Phase I begins by identifying the stakeholders you’ll speak with before creating your EVP. Start with the following groups:
- Current Employees - Current employees will help you understand why they choose to work for your company, why they stay and why they consider it to be an ideal workplace.
- Former Employees - Former employees will also be able to explain what drew them to the company, but more importantly they’ll help you understand why people choose to leave the organization.
- Prospective Employees - Prospective employees will provide insight into how job seekers perceive your company, what benefits and perks they consider to be most important and what they want from a potential employer.
Next, brainstorm the questions you need answered. As always, these should reflect your organization’s unique situation, but we’ve prepared some examples to get you started.
- What originally attracted you to the company? Do you feel your initial expectations have been met? Please explain.
- What tangible benefits (e.g., salary, health plan, PTO, etc.) offered by the company are most appealing to you, and why?
- What intangible benefits (e.g., culture, job satisfaction, etc.) offered by the company are most appealing to you, and why?
- What do you find most fulfilling or value most about working here? Please explain.
- Why do you choose to remain with the company? Please explain.
- What originally attracted you to the company? Do you feel your initial expectations were met? Please explain.
- Why did you choose to leave the company?
- If asked, how would you describe the company to someone considering a job opportunity here?
- What is your current perception of the company, and how did you come to it?
- What is it about the company you feel makes it an appealing place to work?
- What tangible factors (e.g., salary, health plan, PTO, etc.) are most important to you when considering a job opportunity, and why?
- What intangible factors (e.g., culture, job satisfaction, etc.) are most important to you when considering a job opportunity, and why?
Once you’ve identified who to speak with and what to ask them, you’ll need to determine the best manner to facilitate the conversations. These are some of are our favorite methods.
- Surveys - Surveys are the easiest way to collect a large volume of information in a timely fashion. There are numerous survey tools to choose from, so assess your needs and select the option that works best for you. Tip: Guarantee anonymity to boost your response rate.
- One-on-One Interviews - Individual interviews are much more involved than batch surveys, but they provide opportunities to ask follow-up questions and dig for more information. Tip: Work with your managers to schedule interviews in a manner that won’t interfere with productivity or require participants to come in early/stay late.
- Focus Groups - A happy medium between surveys and one-on-one interviews, focus groups allow you to gather a sizable volume of information in a single session. Tip: Consider partnering with a professional focus group facilitator to ensure you get the most out of the event.
- Exit Interviews - Speaking with former employees is often a challenge, so solicit their feedback before they leave. Tip: Structure your questions to ensure the session doesn’t devolve into an opportunity for the employee to vent.
- During the Hiring Process - Adding a questionnaire to the application process is an effective way to solicit feedback from candidates interested in your company. Tip: Keep your questions brief so as not to interfere with the application process.
Phase II - Analysis
The information collected during the Discovery phase will provide insight into the factors employees and job seekers consider important and how your company can meet their wants and needs, but it’s up to you to uncover what matters most.
Quantitative Analysis - Quantitative analysis involves some complicated statistical work and we recommend you partner with an expert data analyst during this phase. That being said, there are some themes with which recruiters and HR pros should be familiar.
- Patterns - As you analyze your results, look for patterns that provide insight into how your employees and candidates think and feel. Do most of them consider certain factors and perks to be very important? Do the majority of respondents hold a positive view of the company? This information will help you understand your audience and craft an EVP that aligns with their desires.
- Split Results - When analyzing your results, you may encounter instances when individuals seem evenly split in their response to a question, making it nearly impossible to glean meaningful insights. This is often a sign of some sort of issue with your survey design. If the results originated from a multiple choice question, you may have provided inadequate options. Or perhaps you surveyed drastically different groups (e.g., senior executives and entry-level employees) which require their own unique EVPs.
- Outliers - Overly negative or positive results can be striking, but in small numbers they actually mean very little. Known as outliers, these one-off responses may grab your attention but if they aren’t representative of your entire sample they should be treated as aberrations rather than the norm.
Qualitative Analysis - Unlike quantitative analysis, which provides insight into what factors are important to your employees, qualitative analysis uncovers why these factors matter. Why are certain benefits and perks more important than others? Why do people choose to work for your company? Why do they choose to stay? Consider the following scenario:
- Finding - 90% of respondents consider a large salary to be an important factor at work. After further discussion, you discover your employees aren’t interested in simply earning more money, but in securing financial security for their families.
- Action - In conjunction with its annual performance-based raises, the organization partners with a financial advisor to provide employees access to an expert that will help them make informed decisions with their money. By recognizing and acting on a common trend, the company is providing a valued benefit that will delight employees and serve as a unique differentiator rival firms aren’t matching.
Increasing base pay would have addressed the fundamental desire, but by digging deeper the company was able to uncover insight about its employees and provide a truly valuable perk. This also demonstrates the benefits of face-to-face information gathering. Surveys and questionnaires are easily scalable, but they rarely match the qualitative insight uncovered via one-on-one interviews and focus groups.
Phase III - Drafting
There is no right or wrong way to format your Employee Value Proposition, but a little inspiration always helps so start with one of the frameworks included below. Once your thoughts are on paper, experiment with formatting to find what’s best for your organization.
Framework 1 - A general EVP
(Company name) offers (job title and desired attributes) the opportunity to achieve/earn/develop (key factors uncovered during Discovery and Analysis phases) and we reward those who (stated company goals).
Acme Startup Co. offers motivated and creative software engineers the opportunity to work on innovative projects and train on the latest programming languages and we reward those who are devoted to shipping excellent code on schedule.
Framework 2 - A marketing-based approach
For ____________ (target candidate and desired attributes) who ____________ (statement of the important factors uncovered via research) (company name) provides ____________ (perks and benefits that align with candidate factors) to those who ____________ (statement of what the company expects in return).
For experienced inbound marketers interested in continued career growth and financial independence, Acme Startup Co. offers an in-house career development program and performance-based bonuses to those who take an active role in helping the company meet its obligations to its stakeholders and finding new ways to attract and retain customers.
Framework 3 - Just the facts
- Target Candidate - Job function/title
- What the company expects of the candidate - (desired attributes and qualifications)
- What the candidate can expect of the company - (sourced from the results of the Discovery and Analysis phases)
- Target Candidate - Mid-level inside sales rep
- What the company expects of the candidate - Regular travel (appx. 50% of your time), the ability to prospect/qualify new leads and experience carrying an annual quota of more than $500,000
- What the candidate can expect of the company - Access to all tools and resources necessary for success, a supportive and fun-loving culture, direct feedback from experienced mentors interested in your professional development
These frameworks will help you create your Employee Value Proposition, but there’s no substitute for a first-hand example. Lucky for us, Cisco has shared its EVP with the world, which allows us to take a look at a few examples of how the company uses its EVP to drive the recruitment messaging on its careers page.
Cisco’s EVP touts the organization’s commitment to an open and supportive culture that respects the contributions of each individual. This theme is seen in Cisco’s recruitment marketing efforts with a series of videos that showcase what the company is doing to provide opportunities to women and veterans in tech, as well as a montage of employees discussing what they love about Cisco’s culture.
Innovation is another central theme of Cisco’s EVP, and once again you see this in the organization’s recruitment marketing via a series of videos that showcase the cutting-edge work and opportunities Cisco’s software engineers enjoy.
The best candidates care about career development, and Cisco’s EVP makes sure to note the training and mentorship opportunities employees can expect from the organization. This theme is a centerpiece of the company’s recruitment marketing.
The most important takeaway here is that your Employee Value Proposition is not a tagline. As Cisco’s approach demonstrates, your Employee Value Proposition should not be used in place of recruitment marketing materials. Rather, it’s used to craft unique messaging that speaks to the needs of your employees and candidates.
Phase IV - Testing
Before you go live with your Employee Value Proposition, take a bit of time to ensure it’s on message. Test your EVP on the following groups and apply their feedback as you work toward a final draft.
Current Employees - Share your first draft with your current employees and solicit their feedback. Ask them to consider the document from two perspectives:
- As a candidate - Would this EVP resonate with them as a job seeker considering an opportunity with your company?
- As a current employee - Does this EVP align with their desires and what the company is actually delivering?
Candidates - Put your draft through its paces by testing it with a small group of actual candidates. Your EVP isn’t a tagline, but you can demo your messaging through several channels:
- Job descriptions.
- A small batch of recruitment marketing materials, tailored to your target candidates.
- During the interview process.
Phase V - Optimization
Optimizing your Employee Value Proposition will help maximize your return on investment and ensure you’re able to attract and retain the talent you need. Start with these simple tips and expand your efforts once you’re more comfortable with optimization.
- Watch Your KPIs - Monitor relevant KPIs to gauge the efficacy of your recruiting and retention efforts. Specifically, look for any changes that occur immediately following the implementation of your new Employee Value Proposition. Significant changes — positive or negative — can provide insight into the impact of your EVP.
- Conduct Regular Research - Everything changes over time, and candidate/employee expectations are no different. To ensure your Employee Value Proposition remains relevant, circle back to the Discovery phase on a regular basis to conduct supplemental research. Touch base with current and former employees and candidates for insight into their perceptions of the company and what they want out of an employer. If necessary, modify your Employee Value Proposition accordingly.
- Test Your Execution - Don’t panic if you aren’t seeing the results you were expecting, as this isn’t necessarily a sign of an ineffective Employee Value Proposition. As we saw in the Cisco case study, your EVP serves as the foundation of your recruitment marketing materials, and if these materials aren’t up to par you’ll likely struggle to land top candidates. Consider testing your recruitment marketing materials to dial in your approach, looking for any opportunity to optimize your message and increase the odds of landing the best candidates.
What isn’t part of an Employee Value Proposition
Before we wrap up, let’s cover a few problem areas to avoid when crafting your EVP. Committing these common mistakes could end up leaving you with an Employee Value Proposition that does more harm than good.
Salary/financial benefits - Financial compensation is obviously a priority for any job seeker, but placing too much emphasis on the salary offer will only condition your employees and prospects to chase the biggest number. Focus your EVP on non-financial and cultural benefits, which are more difficult for other organizations to match.
All things to all people - There’s an old saying in marketing that goes, “If you try to be everything to everyone, you won’t be anything to anyone.” The same holds true for your Employee Value Proposition. Focus your efforts solely on your target audience and speak to their unique needs. If you’re pursuing talent in several diverse functions (say, accounting and design), consider developing separate EVPs for each group.
Aspirational rather than factual - In his article, Collet wrote, “External customer value propositions are often based on a ‘tell’ approach, where a brand will define what it wants to stand for and then use marketing channels to deliver this brand promise. However, an EVP is an employee-centric approach that is aligned to existing HR strategies because it has been informed by existing employees.” This isn’t to say you can’t be somewhat aspirational, but your organization must be capable of backing up what it’s selling. If the experience you deliver doesn’t align with the EVP you use to attract new hires, you won’t keep them for long.