Finding an Effective Employee value Proposition

Know what employees want and value, and review your offerings regularly

By Joanne Sammer Jan 29, 2015

Developing a strong employee value proposition (EVP) is a key element of any recruiting and retention effort. At its most basic, an EVP represents everything of value that an employer provides to its employees—pay, benefits, training, career development opportunities and so on—and it is then “marketed” to the workforce.

The most successful EVPs are tailored to the needs of a specific organization and its workers. “To ensure that an EVP is relevant and exciting to employees, companies need to hit on things that really matter to employees and the business, and that can differentiate their employment experience from others,” said Pam Hein, partner with Aon Hewitt, in Lincolnshire, Ill.

Entelect, a 250-employee software engineering firm in Johannesburg, South Africa, focuses on having a compelling EVP that will keep the attention of employees whose skills are in high demand. “We have a very technical staff complement that want to work on cool, cutting-edge technology, collaborate on exciting projects, constantly learn new techniques and technologies, and grow their careers,” said Shashi Hansjee, the company’s CEO.

To deliver an EVP to meet those needs, the company has introduced 14 accredited internal training forums with options for self study, online learning and in-person classes. “We also changed our performance management process to involve monthly one-on-ones with each person and formal performance reviews quarterly, instead of annually, in order to mentor and guide career progress,” Hansjee said.

To keep the EVP fresh, Entelect also adds new programs each year—for example, hardware upgrades for longer-serving staff members and a program that allows time for employees to learn a new technology of their choosing.

What Employees value

Knowing what employees want and value is the foundation of a successful EVP. However, employers cannot assume that they know which parts of the employment package employees view as the most significant. A perception gap can result in a weak EVP.

If employers assume incorrectly, they could be missing critical opportunities to emphasize how the organization provides what employees prize most. For example, China Central Television in Beijing had long built its EVP around opportunities to benefit from the booming Chinese economy and to gain domestic journalism experience. While that EVP approach worked initially, interviews with top performers revealed that they were motivated less by the opportunity to succeed in China than by the chance to benefit from the company’s worldwide potential in terms of its brand and position as a growing global business.

To reflect what these employees said they most valued, the company is now emphasizing its opportunities for transfers to other locations, including London, Nairobi, Kenya, and Washington, D.C., as it expands its operations. The change was relatively easy to implement and communicate because it was based directly on interviews with high performers. That “provided the HR team with the hard data it needed to make a change in messaging,” said Glen Loveland, the company’s HR manager. “Since the change, we exceeded our internal recruiting targets for last year.”

The Give/Get Deal

These company experiences reflect a core truth when it comes to EVPs: It isn’t always about money.

“A good value proposition isn’t simply stuff you give away, but a deal—a reciprocal arrangement where there is a give/get,” said John Fleischauer, talent attraction manager with Halogen Software in Ottawa, Canada. Employees get something from working for the organization and, in return, give something, such as a commitment to updating and retooling their skills as market needs require.​

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“A good value proposition is a deal—a reciprocal
arrangement where there is a give/get.”

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To ensure an organization is providing what employees value, Fleischauer advocates for some level of customization in the EVP. “Don't just start with what you think is a great value proposition,” he said. “Build on it and keep pushing to find ways to get even more value that will appeal to your target audience.”

Keep It Current

Employers need to review their EVPs regularly to make sure they remain relevant. Asking EVP-related questions when employees join or leave the company, during performance reviews, and in employee surveys can provide ongoing data about how employees perceive the EVP. Recruitment and retention metrics can also indicate how well the EVP fits with employee needs and expectations.

How frequently employers make changes to an EVP depends on a number of factors. For example, if the organization or its labor market is changing rapidly, management may want to monitor the situation to see if revisions to the EVP are necessary to reflect the new reality.

“Companies may need to make a change if there will be significant adjustments to their benefits program, staffing levels or overall strategy,” said Chris Costello, principal with CBG Benefits in Woburn, Mass. “No matter what the change might be, it is critical that organizations review all aspects of their branding and employee communication strategy to ensure that it will reflect the message and intent of the modified EVP.”

But Loveland warned against making too many changes too often, citing every five years as a good benchmark unless an organization has undergone a significant operational change, like a merger or downsizing. “If you try to change your stripes too much, a company might look like it has no identity,” he said.

The Right Balance

In addition, there should be a balance between targeting the EVP to various employee segments (for instance, child care services for employees who are parents) and keeping it broad enough to work for the largest number of people. The solution is to “test, test, test—not only with current employees but with those employees you will need in the future,” said Aon Hewitt’s Hein. Concept testing—via employee surveys and focus groups—before launching can help ensure that an EVP is realistic, differentiating and authentic, she said.

“The most effective EVPs need to last awhile and become part of the organizational fabric,” Hein said. “Companies need to hold themselves accountable to make sure their programs and practices are living up to that EVP consistently and effectively.”

Joanne Sammer is a New Jersey-based freelance writer.

Related SHRM Article:

Design the Right Rewards Strategy, SHRM Online Benefits, June 2014

Related SHRM Resource:

Implementing Total Rewards Strategies, a SHRM Foundation report

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