How to Develop an Effective EVP

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg

The EVP (employer value proposition) can be the centerpiece of a compelling employer brand. But what the heck is it? How do you go about developing one? To get some answers, I’ve spoken to the other Sage of Omaha, Maren Hogan of Red Branch Media.

Please listen to the episode below, keep reading for a transcript of our conversation, and make sure you subscribe to the Employer Branding Podcast.

What is an EVP?

So an employer value proposition, is basically your overarching statement as to what you bring to the table as an employer to your employees. So I was recently asked a question like, “Oh, what is it? Does it stand for employee value proposition or employer value proposition?” I believe the answer is both because you really want people to understand what each person is bringing to the relationship and what each person can anticipate getting out of the relationship. It is especially true when you want those goals to be aligned.

Why is it so important?

Well, I think it’s important because the nature of work is changing, and the power balance is sort of shifting a little bit. It used to be, at least in the States, that you went to a job, you had a job, you had that job your entire life, and you were highly dependent on the company for everything from your paycheck to benefits, retirement, health care, everything that you can think of. And today, with the contingent workforce and the way that millennials and even Gen Xers are approaching work, they want an employer who values what they value and who understands that their needs are just as important as the corporate needs. And companies are jumping on board because they realize that the happier their employees and the more value they feel, the more productive they tend to be, and that translates to bottom line ROI.

How does EVP differ from USP?

I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of people speaking at many conferences about the fact that your employer brand and your consumer brand should be linked and aligned and that we should make sure that, especially if you’re a consumer brand, there are going to be people who apply for your jobs that may later on, or have in the past, purchased your products. And so I think they need to be aligned. The difference is USP is what you’re offering to your consumers, to people who purchase your product. So, let’s say it’s a washing machine, let’s say you’re Samsung, your USP is reliability and dependability and high tech and all this other stuff. Whereas the EVP tends to be more like, “Here’s what we’re offering our internal customer, aka our employee.” So I think they should be aligned, but they can be very, very different. And I would caution anybody from saying, “Our USP should direct our EVP,” simply because you can’t make your outward promise to consumers match your inward promise to employees without a lot of work. And usually, people already have a culture, already have a promise that they’re making or breaking. So, I would align them, but be careful not to overlap too much.

What size of company needs an EVP?

About 10 to 12 is where Red Branch Media was not too long ago. And now we’re about to double that. But what happens is your EVP develops naturally as you learn what you’re already giving people. So, we recently went through something that helped us define our values. I think an EVP is kind of necessary when you get into starting to manage performance. So, it affects a lot of things down the road, whether it’s compensation models, performance management, retention, or recruiting. All of those things are affected by the EVP. However, I would say your same counsel is essential. They’re going to see what their EVP is soon enough, anyway. So the answer to your question is about 15, 20, and the answer to their question is, just keep an eye on it. Don’t be ignorant of the fact that you are actively now, as your company is growing, developing an employee value proposition. And I’ll give you just a quick example of how we saw that happen at the Red Branch Media, where it became very clear very quickly, even when there were just 7 or 8 of us, that one of the values was going to be accountability. That’s just an immense value within our corporation, not just… Our corporation, ha, ha, ha…our company, because they are accountable to me, my employees are, and I’m responsible to them. We have issues with various clients or vendors or anything like that.

Do you have a step-by-step approach to EVP?

We do have a step-by-step approach. I will say that there are a lot of really good models out there. We’ve used models from all big thinkers to help our clients when they want to develop an EVP. Because, in some cases, it will be a startup. So we have to go in and talk to each of their employees. We have to speak with leadership at the company and say, “Okay, what do you think the values are?” Then we turn around and ask the same question of employees, “What do you think the values are?” So that’s one approach. Another approach might be a large corporation that has existed for a long time and is looking to move into maybe new areas. I’m doing a case study around that shortly in SourceCon to say, “Hey, you know, what works in the Midwest may not work on the coasts or what have you.” So that’s another model that we follow.

And then there’s a third model which is to say, “Okay, we’ve never paid very much attention to employer brand, we know we need to. We have a problem.” This is usually when there’s an issue within the organization, high turnover, bad reviews, or whatever, and then we take a step-by-step. It’s more of a tactical approach. We do the surveys and the anecdotal talks, but then we also make sure to start improving things tactically so they can see movement. One of the big issues, when people start tackling their EVP or their employer brand, is that they don’t know enough movement quickly enough, and then they abandon the project, leaving employees even more embittered and frustrated.

What are typical pitfalls for employers?

Another typical pitfall, I would say, is only considering the white-collar headquarters’ opinions when you’re rebuilding your employer brand. This is particularly true in manufacturing, industrial, and even some companies like pharmaceuticals. So we only think about the office jobs and not the scientists or the foremen or the plant supervisors, and those people really are the line managers. They’re the ones who are out there doing a big chunk of the work that, again, affects your bottom line. It’s not just sales or marketing or accounting or HR. And so, often, when I go in to survey people or when Red Branch wants to line up anecdotal interviews, I’ll get many white-collar, high-level people, and that’s great. We do want their perspectives because, traditionally, they’ve been there quite a long time, and they have a unique historical long-term view. But it’s also imperative to get, ‘what does the receptionist think? How is the associate branch manager doing’.

If I had to pick another mistake, I would say not anticipating and not anticipating that a successful brand, a successful employer brand that’s built in a highly regional area, will translate exactly the same way in other areas. And so people tend to think, “Oh, we’ve got a great brand, our people love us”, “It’s everyone’s dream in this area to work for this company. And now we’re gonna expand in this other place, and we’re gonna use the same playbook.” That’s usually a disaster waiting to happen. And that’s why we use candidate personas quite strongly when we develop an employer branding plan. Now, the EVP itself, the overarching piece, can go over all three of your locations or 15 or 500. But the actual plan, playbook, does need to be changed a touch, I would say when moving regions or changing offices or opening new plants or whatever.

How can we measure the return on investment on a good EVP?

I don’t think you can measure the return on investment on a good EVP. An EVP is, by itself. Like records on a record player. So the middle part of the record tells you the name of the record and all of the songs on the record, but it’s not really playable, right? So, the needle only goes to that little space. That’s kind of what the EVP is. It tells you what we’re doing, and it makes a promise, but it’s the employer branding campaigns and marketing that actually make that happen. So, managers have to make that happen. But to answer your question about employer brand instead of EVP, I would say retention numbers and hiring numbers. If those aren’t changed, those bottom lines, rear ends, and seats, employees that are happy and engaged…I wouldn’t say happy and engaged are synonyms. But employees that are engaged, employees that are sticking around, those are the numbers that I would truly measure employer brand by. And I really, honestly think everyone should.

Which companies that have good EVP could we all learn from?

A company that I feel has a good EVP is American Airlines. And I say this simply because you asked the thing about the USP, and of course, people complain about airlines all the time, and they’re always ticked off because this is late, and that’s late, and they lost my bag. However, what you can see from the employees on the inside is that they feel valued and appreciated where they work. Nike is another great place that really takes care of its people, makes them feel valued, and focuses on trying to bring that employer brand home. Southwest Airlines is another one. There was a kerfuffle two or three years ago where you heard about an employee being ticked off at Southwest. But literally, in all the times that it’s been part of my presence and that I’ve heard presentations from people that work there and talk to people that work there, people have been extremely happy, pleased to go to work. So I would say that is an excellent example.

An employer brand that I think is not at all flashy but really treats its workers right is Aldi. It’s a chain of supermarkets. They also own Trader Joe’s, and I’m sure that they also treat their Trader Joe’s people very wonderfully. But small things like their register workers can sit down, and they’re paid a fair and equitable wage and always willing to help. And that really does translate into when I, as a consumer, go in there, you get a great feeling of these people being happy to be here; they’re not overworked, they’re not overburdened. I would compare and contrast that with, say, a Walmart, where it feels very different when you walk into the store.

How do you see EVP developing over the next few years?

CSR and corporate philanthropy are going to really start to make a big difference in EVP, even more so than they have in the last couple of years. People are really just increasingly engaged in both the political world and the humanitarian world, and they have causes that matter to them. And I believe that those are the people that are out there working so that we all have jobs. So I think that that’s going to be a big part of a company’s EVP. Not just, “What are you doing for your customers and what are you doing for your employees?” But, “What are you doing collectively for the world.” So, there’s a great concept of shared impact.

I’d like to come up with a couple of other models because you mentioned step-by-step earlier when you asked about models. And I think that most of the ones that I’ve seen have been circular in nature, like the record that I said, there’s the EVP in the middle, and that affects everything around it, which is true. But for smaller companies or for companies who don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars to give to a company to spend three months developing their EVP and another 12 months developing the plan, I think we’re going to start looking at the value of not just strategic thinking, which is incredibly valuable and we should never replace, but also, what are the tactical things that we’re going to put in place alongside this, so stuff changes? And I think people are going to demand, just like with social recruiting back in the day, people were like, “Oh, you know, it’s a branding exercise. We don’t really need to measure it.” And other people were like, “We’ve got to measure it. It’s super important.” Now we can measure it, and I think employer brand is going to get closer and closer to being, “We’re going to have that demand. So show me the money,” basically.

Follow Maren on Twitter @MarenHogan and subscribe to the Employer Branding Podcast.


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