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So just what is an employer value proposition?

An exploration of employer value proposition as a narrative. A fuller definition of what that means, how you can form your employer propsition and then use it to form and change perceptions.

The problem with defining meaning

I’m not the world’s biggest proponent of hard definitions. Many people use employer value proposition (EVP) and employer brand interchangeably – and very often, that’s just fine.

There are long debates on whether it should be employer or employee value proposition i.e. for which audience is this most focussed. I feel whatever makes most sense to you is the way to go.

There’s a risk that the narrowness of labels you apply, means people don’t understand or don’t see the value of what you’re trying to do

A broad, always-applicable definition

But there is a point – most likely at the outset of your journey – where definitions are helpful. If you start off broad, dependent on your specific objectives, you can make it more relevant to you and your organisation as you proceed.

So, when I talk about employer brand proposition, this is what I mean:

I see your employee value proposition as a narrative. A narrative that spells out the perception of your organisation, as an employer, that you want to influence people towards.

(And by extension, your employer brand, is that perception. And your employer branding is the efforts you make to move that perception. Those efforts can be either what you tell people about – marketing – or how you create something better – experience.)

So, it’s just spin?

Immediately we see the issue that marketeers have faced down the ages.

I’ve said you’re trying to influence someone’s perception. It’s not too big a leap to imagine that I’m suggesting you spin or otherwise obfuscate the reality of working for you. Far from it.

Your employee value proposition should be Distinctive and Attractive, but also Realistic and Consistent. It should be the truth of your current state and aspirations, and that truth should be varnished as little as possible.

Creating perception

So, if we’re not trying to hoodwink people, why do we need to “influence their perception”?

Because they may not have a perception of you as an employer.

There’s a decent chance they’ve never heard of you. Don’t believe me? Look at the FTSE 100, the biggest commercial companies operating in the UK. Have you heard of Ashtead Group, Croda International, Antofagasta PLC? Me neither, so I have no perception of what working there might be like.

Employers need to influence perceptions, and that often starts by telling people what you do, and why.

Your purpose needs to be at the heart of your EVP, and that means your EVP needs to align, and overlap, with your public face.

Adjusting existing perception

In the instance that your audience has heard of you, what are they basing the perceptions on?

Much of it will be on their interactions (actual or potential) with you as a consumer or service user.

That’s quite probably not going reflect your reality. Say you’re a stack-‘em-high-sell-‘em-cheap retailer. You might expect that’s going to be reflected in the employee experience, whoever that retailer is. It’s likely the “cheapness” of the brand has a part in how you think of them as an employer.

While your purpose needs to be at the heart of your EVP, part of the job of your employer value proposition is to contextualise your roles.

In this example it might be:

It’s not easy being cheap. It’s takes skill and innovation, so we reward those that can help us deliver high-quality affordable products.

Challenging misperceptions

What else is going to create or taint their perception of you right now? All manner of things, and mostly out of your control:

They didn’t like your last outdoor product campaign. They just didn’t get the idea, so now they’re a bit confused about what you’re all about

Lots of people in your industry are requiring people to work in the office more often. So, they’re going to assume that you will follow suit. And that doesn’t suit them.

Their mate, Daz – you know Daz, right? – he worked there 10 years ago. Anyway, he said it sucked.

And that’s just the beginning. As humans we think we’re rational, and that we make head-based decisions on where we want to work. But there’s still a whole load of gut involved.

There are two take-aways from this.

Takeaway 1: They might simply not understand what you are all about, they might have the wrong end of a different stick. Or all sorts of things that you’ve done as an organisation in the past might stick to you. Frustratingly, things you never did, and would never do, also possibly stick to you.

As part of your employer brand proposition, you need to find out where people are now, so that you can address their existing perceptions.

Takeaway 2: People have shown they’re ready to be influenced. They’re swayed by previous advertising, industry trends, even Daz.

Your employer brand proposition has just as much of an opportunity to sway people’s perception, especially if there is an emotional element to it.

You will need to cover the fundamentals

You can’t go straight to emotional. It’s like a conversation, there’s small talk to do before you open up.

The fundamentals are the table stakes. The rational must-haves. If people can’t see these in your employer value proposition, then they won’t – they can’t – engage in the rest.

When people are thinking about their next employer, each job needs to satisfy three criteria: does it pay enough, can I physically get there, can I do / am I interested in doing the role?

We’re not here taking about that level of individual role granularity. We’re talking an employer value proposition that has something to say for everyone that works for you.

But there are fundamentals that must be built into that proposition.

  • Pay: If we stick with pay – say you have more less-skilled roles, and you pay at or above the living wage, then you want to shout about it. Or if there’s chance for quick progression for people at entry-level, and a step up the pay scale. Again, that’s a big part of your proposition.
  • Hybridity: Undoubtedly, if you largely employ people that can work in an office or can work elsewhere, then your stance on that will be vital. There aren’t right or wrong answers, there are plenty of good reasons to work together every day, there are plenty of good reasons to allow people infinite flexibility. Your task is to ensure that you bring people’s perception closer to your reality.
  • Development: There’s also the question of ability to develop, or to keep learning, or to do new things. Most people want to know there’s either some progression or variety in their role. So, you ought to give an indication of what’s next. (It should be noted: Some people want absolute consistency and stability, and the security of that is tremendously valuable to them. You should never assume everyone wants to move on or up.)
  • Inclusion: Increasingly, inclusion feels like something every employer value proposition needs to say something about. There’s the diversity and equity aspect, and every organisation will have their successes and challenges. But there’s also the need – the right? – to be understood as an individual. This now feels fundamental, and a lack of appreciation or comment around this will leave a gap in your proposition.

Now you can bring in the entire experience, and make it emotional

These maybe the less-tangible elements of your proposition, but these help build the emotional connection. These are the elements that escribe how people feel. These are the parts where you move perception. This is where your employer value proposition is most sticky.

Heritage and Status: When (if!) they talk about their work in professional or social circles, what do they like to bring up?

Future plans: What challenges will you face and what does that mean for chances to innovate and learn?

Leadership: Do they make your people feel better about themselves and their work?

Wellbeing: Does working for you give them more than it “costs”?

Security: Can people feel assured they’ll have a job in 12 months’ time?

Autonomy: Will people feel they have authority in their work?

Environment: Has your people’s experience been considered and refined?

Support: Do your people always feel that they have someone to turn to?

Employee Voice and Innovation: Do your people feel they have a voice?

Culture and Values: Do your people know what to expect from each other? Do your customers know what to expect from you?

Recognition: Do your people know that they matter?

Collaboration and Sociability: Is the workplace an important place to your people?

Summary

Your employee value proposition is a narrative that you want to influence people towards.

To do that it must be Distinctive, Attractive, Realistic and Consistent.

Because then it can create, adjust and challenge perceptions.

If you then include the fundamentals of an employee value proposition, that earns you the right to exercise the emotional.

And that is how you will truly influence people, so they see your organisation as it is.

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