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HR, culture, and the need for EVPs

If one of the fundamental roles of HR is to help shape purposeful cultures, improve workplace experience, and hold management accountable for their cultural shortcomings in the future, what can the profession learn from the pandemic about their own EVPs, and how can they effectively collaborate with their teams and colleagues to create, foster, and sustain an environment that everyone looks forward to entering each day?

Driving purposeful culture is a trending topic in many business sectors in 2021. There is a renewed recognition by many businesses – especially those operating in highly-regulated markets – that driving purposeful cultures underpinned by a genuine Employee Value Proposition (EVP) can significantly improve employee experience, business productivity, and consumer resolutions.

If one of the fundamental roles of HR is to help shape purposeful cultures, improve workplace experience, and hold management accountable for their cultural shortcomings in the future, what can the profession learn from the pandemic about their own EVPs, and how can they effectively collaborate with their teams and colleagues to create, foster, and sustain an environment that everyone looks forward to entering each day?

Adrian Harvey, CEO of Elephants Don’t Forget – believes that there is a compelling case for HR professionals to focus on individual employee capability building to help achieve this objective.

Harvey explained:

“We know that purposeful culture is a primary driver of employee experience. In regulated sectors – like financial services, for example – they are witnessing a significant shift in how the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) are positioning purpose as a way for firms to improve employee conduct, behaviour, mindset, capability, performance, and employee-managerial relationships.

Purpose is, arguably, one of the most difficult desires to fulfil for employees. Without purpose, it can be difficult for employees to connect with what they do within our organisations; to know that what they are doing daily is making a positive contribution.

Putting purpose as a central focus of a business’ culture is now being championed as a way for them to further develop personal accountability too; making employees more engaged and receptive to the fact that they play a leading role in shaping their own organisational culture.

This, in turn, is helping to create greater cohesion and understanding between employees and senior management. The positioning of purpose in this manner fosters a genuine sense that if management take care of their employees, then employees will take care of management; thereby protecting the entire organisation from risks, improving business performance, and increasing employee satisfaction.

However, achieving this requires senior management to lead by example, and the role of HR needs to ensure that they ‘walk the talk’. The continued rhetoric of cultural values is critically important, but purposeful culture is inherently reliant on genuine EVPs that improve the daily experience and capability of the people who you work with.”

Harvey contends that many of the default employee training and engagement methodologies deployed by businesses can have the opposite effect and disenfranchise the perception of purposeful culture for staff.

Instead of methodically attending to what employees need to be most effective in their roles, Harvey considers that most default engagement and training initiatives used – often characterised by employee engagement surveys, annual refresher training and single point in time assessments – have become perfunctory. These, in turn, can result in a reduction of objective employee engagement and loss of critical real-time Management Information (MI) to help inform individual performance management conversations and wider strategic business decisions.

Harvey considers that to drive purposeful cultures, businesses should look to apply the same level of focus on people management as their customer management, paying specific attention to competency, knowledge, skills, and capability building.

The AI provider, who support the ongoing training and competency programs of organisations including Microsoft, Allianz, Aviva, and Volvo, commissioned a three-year study to assess the baseline competency of employees across several business sectors they operate in. Analysis of the responses to over 72 million competency interactions between 2017-19 found that the average level of tenured employee competency stood at just 52% pre-pandemic.[1]

Additional studies conducted throughout Covid-19 also found that employment engagement, particularly with critical learning and development material has been problematic for some businesses.

In December 2020, they distributed a survey to over 2,000 Learning and Development (L&D) practitioners across a broad spectrum of sectors and found that just 3% said they had seen a significant uptake in their employees engaging with self-selection learning materials online, even though 84% of the survey respondents stated they had had implemented an online knowledge store that employees could access whilst working from home (WFH).[2]

Worryingly, in highly regulated sectors, 47% of 100 financial Risk and Compliance professionals polled in May 2020 stated that they that their firms had not implemented or provided any new Training & Competence (T&C) provisions to upskill their employees’ knowledge to mitigate competency-related conduct breaches, despite the forced migration to WFH happening two months previously.[3]

In their most recent study, none of the 280 financial firms surveyed stated that they were entirely confident with their approach to culture and governance, with 15% actively stating that their approach to implementing the purposeful cultural agendas issued by the FCA had been ‘tick box’ rather than value add.[4]

Harvey concluded:

“The pandemic has illustrated that businesses have a lot to learn about the desires and behaviours of their employees, and how the provisions businesses deploy truly reflect the drive towards purposeful cultures.

Developing an effective EVP positions the burden on a business to implement a proposition of value to fix employee engagement, not to demonise employees based upon their responses to a single point in time assessment or engagement survey. It is too episodic; senior managers know the responses to the survey is coming, and so they might pay more attention to their staff at that point in time, whilst executives can only make decisions after the results are in.

In our recent webinar, we extensively reviewed the Bank of England’s Organisational culture and bank risk paper to glean some valuable insights into how firms could apply the use of obtrusive and unobtrusive indicators to measure employee engagement and cultural progression.[5] With culture being dynamic, it was evident from the research that single point assessments cannot provide the continual assessment mechanism required to constantly assess cultural improvement from a people perspective.

Covid-19 has shown us that employees want workplace flexibility, a focus on health and wellness, and they value personal development of their skills. So, the way that an organisation trains and develops its employees, for example, reflects how committed the business is to really drive a purposeful culture that takes on board these desires.

HR plays a fundamental role in developing this definition, but they must also lead the charge on holding c-suite teams accountable for how it is measured continually and correctly.

If businesses are primarily reliant on single point in time assessments, do these genuinely reflect culture? Whilst the information generated can be useful, the notion that you can conduct a single point in time audit and define that your provisions are ‘fine’ is questionable.

What is the definition of ‘fine’? Are you scoring yourself 90/100 at that point in time? And are you simply defining the collective capability of your organisation as ‘fine’ and not assessing it from an individual employee perspective? How valuable is that information when it comes to reporting and developing human capital?

Without a continual assessment methodology, it is doubtful that businesses will be able to really understand the drivers of people-based behaviour and what requires most attention.

What’s more, if every employee is being treated to the same one-size-fits all approach, they are far less likely to be engaged and there is a real danger they will interpret a cultural change program as just another tick box exercise.

We do not adopt this approach in our Customer Value Proposition (CVP), so we should not tolerate it within our EVPs either.”

[1] Source: Elephants Don’t Forget, ‘Three-year competency assessment study’, 2017-19

[2] Source: Elephants Don’t Forget, ‘Covid-19 Insights Survey’, December 2020. Survey distributed to 2,000 L&D professionals.

[3] Source: Elephants Don’t Forget, ‘Covid-19 proves to be SM&CR Litmus Test’, 28th May 2020. Webinar available here: https://vimeo.com/430740035

[4] Source: Elephants Don’t Forget, ‘‘Culture Measurement: Help is Here’, 22nd July 2020. Webinar available here: https://www.elephantsdontforget.com/webinar-culture-measurement-help-is-here/

[5] Source: Bank of England, ‘Organisational culture and bank risk Staff Working Paper No. 912’, available here: https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/working-paper/2021/organisational-culture-and-bank-risk

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