How can an employer stand out from the crowd?

If you read nothing else, read this …

• An employee value proposition (EVP) is a statement that outlines what an organisation is, what it does, and why it stands out from the competition.

• An EVP can be advantageous in attracting new talent to an organisation, and engaging and motivating existing employees.

• EVPs are based on an organisation’s ethics, values and professional standards, but also include information about compensation, benefits, career development and work-life balance issues.

Case study: Tata has global perspective

With 202,000 employees based in 42 countries, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) has to ensure that its employee value proposition (EVP) is attractive to its global workforce.

The company, which provides IT solutions, employs 5,000 staff in the UK and Ireland. Nupur Singh, head of human resources for the UK and Ireland, says: “We believe our EVP helps us attract the best talent from the global labour market. It has global relevance, enabling TCS to access a talent pool across multiple countries.”

TCS’s EVP focuses on three concepts: global exposure, work-life balance and giving workers experience across different business functions. “The EVP is seen by employees to add significant value to our total rewards,” says Singh.

The company prizes work-life balance. “Finding a perfect balance between career demands and personal life is not easy,” says Singh. “Our work-life balance programmes, under our Maitree umbrella, which means camaraderie in Hindi, promote cultural events, fun activities and community development projects.”

TCS’s corporate social responsibility campaigns tap into issues relevant to local offices. For example, 100 London staff have volunteered to mentor and teach business skills to students at Stepney Green School in east London.

Case study: UKRD tunes staff in to core values

Ranked number one in The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For in 2011, local radio station group UKRD has used employee value propositions (EVPs) with great success.

William Rogers, chief executive officer of UKRD, explains: “Clearly, salaries and financial considerations play their part, but at the heart of what we do is a recognition that the way we operate and behave in the workplace, as well as the opportunity to grow as an individual, really make the difference.”

The company, which employs 260 people across 17 sites, filters everything it does through six core values: open, honest, fair, fun, professional and unconventional. The EVP also includes genuine engagement and personal development.

The model has worked well, and in The Sunday Times’ research, 90% of employees said they were proud to work for the firm. “Good people stay longer and have a pride in the business that is, in effect, as much a representation of their own contribution to it as anything else,” says Rogers. “Engaged and positive people have more fun at work, especially in an environment in which it is positively encouraged.”

The organisation continually drives home the EVP as part of its annual training and development programme. “Our managers are trained, as are all our staff, to fully understand what each of these values means in practice,” says Rogers. “They also know how to interact with each other to deliver a great environment in which to work, as well as to meet a challenging set of commercial expectations.”

A well-crafted employee value proposition can help an employer stand out as a desirable place to work, says Jenny Keefe

There was a time when bags of benefits, a dollop of work-life balance and a pinch of corporate social responsibility (CSR) were all that was needed to make an employer attractive to potential recruits. But with many organisations offering plentiful perks, flexible working and a CSR agenda, it takes more for today’s employers to stand out from the crowd.

Graeme Martin, professorial research fellow at the University of Glasgow Business School, says: “Some organisations have managed to achieve legitimacy, especially those that focus on CSR, ethical employment practices and high-performance work systems. But these are not sufficient to be highly competitive in the labour market.

“To do that, an organisation must create a desirable difference through its employee value proposition, mission statement and employer brand. This is where employers fall down. Most of the stuff I see at practitioner conferences that purports to do this fails to create a sense of distinctiveness. They mostly look, sound and feel the same.”

Often tied into employer branding, an employee value proposition (EVP) is a brand statement outlining what the organisation is, what it does and why it is compelling. Chris Johnson, head of Mercer’s human capital business in the UK, says: “An EVP covers the classic total reward elements of compensation, benefits, career and work-life issues. But it also looks at ethics and values, and how these manifest themselves in professional standards, culture, CSR and, crucially, customer value proposition.”

Johnson suggests employers should treat staff more like customers. “Some EVPs are distilled from business strategy and the customer value proposition,” he says. “For example, great customer service organisations treat their employees as if they were customers, ensuring they get the customer experience. The hospitality industry has done this well.”

Attracting the right recruits

Heidi Myers, recruitment director at media monitoring firm Meltwater Group, says a unique EVP helps to attract the right recruits. “Our EVP is simple,” she says. “We offer a fast-track career path plus professional development, regardless of how many years’ experience an employee has. This includes international opportunities and a great reward package, where the hard work put in directly influences the monthly salary.

“If an EVP can differentiate an [employer] from its competitors and honestly represent it from an employee perspective, the organisation will become an employer of choice.”

Although the term EVP may not be familiar to all, the desire to create a bond between employer and employee is nothing new. Robin Hames, Bluefin’s head of technical, marketing and research, says: “Many employers will be striving to create or deliver an EVP, albeit not necessarily as a formal policy. EVPs may be known by a plethora of other terms, such as brand engagement programmes, employer brand propositions, and many in-house project names.”

So how can employers go about creating the perfect EVP? First, they should think about the organisation’s existing EVP, and ask whether it is consistent with what they want to offer. Dr Carley Foster, a reader in retail management at Nottingham Business School, says: “Even if an organisation does not have a managed or conscious EVP, the labour market is likely to have an image of a company as a place to work if it is a large organisation that deals with the general public. Many employers are well known as a result of their products and service brands, such as McDonald’s, Tesco and Google.”

Consider organisation’s values

If the EVP is ripe for a makeover, start by formally considering the organisation’s values, culture and benefits.

Michiel Pool, marketing manager at employer brand consultancy Universum, says: “It all starts with research. Employers need to analyse their strengths within the three components of the EVP: image, identity and profile.

Where is an overlap? Of this overlap, are there strengths and weaknesses in their external image that they wish to enhance? The conclusion of this analysis is the EVP’s foundation.”

Pool advises employers to design their EVP with the workers they want to attract in mind. “An employer needs to ensure that what it wants to communicate about itself is actually attractive to its primary target audience,” he says.

“Otherwise, potential candidates do not listen and do not apply. Correspondingly, employers also need to delete unattractive messages.”

Taking existing workers’ views into account is also key. Bluefin’s Hames says: “Regular employee surveys and working parties help [an employer] to understand staff attitudes about the organisation and the wider socio-political agenda. This can be both highly informative and hugely helpful in framing elements such as employee benefits, work-life balance and CSR.”

Employee engagement research is a good source of insight, says Mercer’s Johnson. “It is possible to analyse the drivers of employee engagement and those drivers are, in effect, the value proposition. For example, if quality of leadership is an engagement driver, the EVP could use quality of leadership as a source of value.”

One organisation that has worked hard to create an EVP that reflects its workforce is pub operator Orchid Group, which has 6,500 employees. Nina Marshall, head of HR, says: “Our EVP recognises our diverse workforce and demonstrates the company’s commitment to the factors that are important to the individual or group of individual employees. The proposition supports that the primary motivator of our staff is more than just financial remuneration.”

Ideally, the EVP should also be tailored to different groups of staff, such as departments or levels. “Engaging factors need to be appropriate to the recipient,” says Marshall. “We have recognised that the employees in our units reflect our customer base, and we have an extremely diverse workforce to fit the various concepts and businesses we have, ranging from student venues to our over-50s Diamond Club.”

Once the EVP is up and running, remember it is not just an HR formality, it is a tool to attract potential recruits and an ongoing reference point. But many HR teams create an EVP, then give up the ghost. Jon Ingham, executive consultant at Strategic Dynamics, says: “I do not believe EVPs are used as much now as they were a decade ago.

In large part, this is because they were never used that much anyway. Most HR teams that used them saw them simply as a tool to aid thinking about what they would offer employees. Having done this once, there was a perception that they did not need to be used again.

Intangible, psychological contract

“The opportunity is to use them much more extensively. EVPs’ real benefit comes from using them to make the intangible, psychological contract as tangible as possible. This can be done by embedding them in performance management, making it a two-way process. So, as well as the organisation reviewing employees’ performances, employees review how well the organisation delivers its side of the EVP.”

Employers should also ensure managers are on board. If line managers do not understand the EVP, there is work to be done to educate them. William Rogers, chief executive of local radio operator UKRD Group, says: “Without senior and middle managers buying into and representing an EVP, it will fail. One bad manager can destroy all the aspiration such an approach may deliver.

“As a result, when we introduced our EVP, initial effort was concentrated on management levels. Some managers left of their own accord and some were persuaded to do so. The culture and environment we have is tough for management and it requires a manager totally committed to the path, or it will fail.”

It is also vital to communicate the EVP clearly to all parties involved. Nottingham Business School’s Foster says: “Based on my research, employers that have effective EVPs are those that communicate them in a consistent, clear way to the labour market and internally. Organisations should emphasise these propositions at all points of contact with staff and applicants; putting a list of values on a company website is not enough.”

Finally, do not be tempted to exaggerate. “Gaps between rhetoric and reality can undermine the strategy,” says Bluefin’s Hames. “For example, if employers highlight their green credentials but have piles of paper everywhere and no means of controlling their carbon footprint, staff will see it all as corporate-speak. A successful EVP needs to be consistent with what life is really like once an individual has passed through the honeymoon induction period.”

Employee value proposition: How to get it right

  • Assess your existing EVP. All employers have an EVP, whether they like what they see or not. Analyse how staff and potential recruits see the organisation.
  • Identify your target audience. Ensure the EVP is obviously relevant to the kind of workers the organisation wants to attract.
  • Canvass for ideas. Carry out surveys to determine workers’ attitudes and values.
  • Get feedback in performance reviews. Ask staff to rate how well the organisation has met the objectives set out in its EVP.
  • Do not stop believing. Any organisation can write an EVP, but it must ensure the management believes in its values. Employees will spot gaps between rhetoric and reality.
  • Writing an EVP is just the beginning. Revisit your EVP every couple of months and adapt it as necessary.

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The merits of a distinctive brand

  • Research conducted by TMP Worldwide in March 2011 found that over 60% of HR professionals said they would increase their investment in employer branding in the following 12 months.
  • Over 70% of respondents said they had a major focus to ensure their employer brand was best in class in their sector.
  • About 35% of respondents found that employer branding had made a contribution to reducing staff turnover.
  • Over 60% attributed an improvement in staff engagement to employer branding.

Read more about what employees value