EVP Activation: Six pre-flight checks to make your employer branding project a success
A strong employer brand can help you stand out, lower cost per hire, reduce employee turnover and increase quality of applicant. But it’s no easy task. And if the project isn’t run right in the first place, the chance of success is that much smaller.
At Maximum, we get the chance to work on employer branding projects of all shapes and sizes for a wide range of clients. Over the years we’ve made a few general observations about what helps to ensure a project’s success.
What follows are a few easy (ish) things you can do to help make the best of your employer brand project.
1. Align. Empower. Include.
EVP is all about culture. And culture starts at the top. So the first thing you need to do is secure buy-in— and ideally active participation— from leadership as part of the core project team. Form a lean cross-functional project team who are empowered to make decisions.
The general consensus (1) (2) (3) is that HR, Talent Acquisition, and Marketing will likely have the biggest stake, and one of those should probably own the project with the others making up the rest of the core team.
Depending on how your organisation works, you might also want to include Learning and Organisational Development, Corporate / Internal Communications and Operations. And for larger, global projects, including functional or regional heads can be a good idea too.
The point is, EVP and employer branding has the potential to touch every part of your company, so don’t build it for your people, build it with your people.
2. Don't communicate your values. Cultivate them.
In “The Values-Driven Organization: Unleashing Human Potential for Performance and Profit”, author Richard Barrett describes values as “rules for decision making. Deeply held beliefs that a certain way of being or a certain way of doing things is preferable to another”. By this definition, the key word in Employer Value Proposition is Value. And so the real power of an employer brand, and your EVP —if acted upon— is to strengthen your organisation’s performance by realising and reinforcing the values that drive your culture.
For one of our recent EVP projects, a core part of activation was exploring ways we could help employees to be more creative at work.
This means that it’s a lot more important for employees to feel your values than to know categorically what they are. If you really want your EVP to take root, be critical about how candidates and employees currently experience your brand, and find ways to make those experiences more values-aligned. Focus on what you can do, and the touchpoints will take care of themselves. Speaking of which…
And they know what outcomes they want. So try to be inductive when it comes to identifying which touchpoints and interactions your employer brand should focus on. At Maximum, we’ve borrowed from the field of UX design to run Candidate Experience Mapping workshops with recent hires to identify pain-points and priority touchpoints in your candidate journey. Although a few years old now, Adaptive Path made an excellent guide to experience mapping.
From workshops like this, you can learn a wealth of rich user-led information, some of which might surprise you. For example, following a recent set of workshops with one client, we learned that: job descriptions needed to be more readily available for employees, who were a major source of referrals but lacking information; we learned that the career site was less important than we were expecting; and that early information about the contract negotiation and reference checking parts of the application process was needed.
Insights like this not only ensure that when you come to employer brand activation, you’re focusing on the touchpoints that matter most, they also have the potential to create an EVP project pipeline for years to come. Taking this approach further, you could follow a Human-Centered Design model—like this one by Nielson Norman Group— and work with your users to design the new solutions.
4. Do it out in the open. And treat everyone like a stakeholder.
There’s nothing worse than being asked for input and then never seeing anything come from it. If you’re going to involve employees and the wider organisation—and you should—then invest time and resources in demonstrating a causal relationship between their input and your activities.
Think like a community manager. Take advantage of internal communication channels at your disposal. Take part in town-halls or even good old-fashioned email to provide timely status updates that outline inputs, learning, actions taken, progress made and next steps. For one client who was using Workplace by Facebook, we set up a public community to serve as a central hub for the employer brand.
Importantly, the key to success here is not to bombard every last person with what you are doing, but to create transparency about your activities and how they were influenced by the input you received.
In another recent candidate experience project, we invested a significant amount of time presenting the project to various stakeholder groups across regions and functions. This allowed us to pick up sponsors for the project from beyond the core team, so that when solutions went into production, there was already awareness and support for the project. In addition to making the process smoother, it also significantly raised the profile of the project within the organisation. The result? An APAC innovation project is now being scoped for global implementation.
5. You make what you measure.
If you want to improve something you have to measure it first. Set your KPIs in advance and take time to identify the factors that impact your ability to improve them.
5a) Internal metrics.
This is a lot trickier than external because an employee’s experience is a much more complicated scenario with a lot more variables than say, talent attraction and candidate conversion. For example, a lot of EVP projects have stated aims like reduce employee turnover. But where a lot of EVP activation falls short is in identifying the real root causes for employee turnover being what it is. (This comes back to point #3 is about solving The Real Problems).
Employees needs exist in a hierarchy. If employees are leaving because basic needs like compensation or manager support are not being addressed sufficiently, then those needs are going to undermine all other efforts. Using holistic diagnostic surveys like Barratts Culture Values Assessments can help you understand where your organisation’s culture is falling short vs expectations.
Once you understand where the main problems are, you can focus your attention more clearly, and start to solve the issues that are inhibiting success. And from there, you can start to create more precise metrics which you might be able to control. Sticking with our example, that could be employees’ reported satisfaction levels with managers, or it could be benchmarking your salary against the industry average.
5b) External metrics.
For external activation, most of the time we’re going to be looking at a few key areas. Some organisations choose to look at reputation rankings like Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work, or Universum’s Most Attractive Employers. I personally find this approach problematic as the moment you start chasing these numbers, you’re chasing factors which impact the ranking rather than things which can materially improve your company in line with your values. And they may not be the same thing.
Instead, look at harder, more concrete numbers. If you’re hiring, pay close attention to talent attraction metrics. In my opinion, the gold-standard metric would be your Applicant to Hire ratio because it tells you the degree to which you are attracting relevant candidates. No recruiter wants volume without relevance.
In one of Maximum’s more successful online hiring campaigns we were able to reduce the cost per applicant by 45%, reduce applicants declined after first screening by 44%. Traffic to the career site declined by 68% whilst site visitor to application ratio improved from 1:64 to 1:27. These are clear signs that you’re having the right conversation with the right people.
6. There is no finish line.
If there’s one thing you take away from this project make it this: most EVP projects fail because they mistake the beginning for the end.
Think about what a typical EVP project looks like: you have a discovery phase, you do some analysis and come up with some insights, you draft a framework, maybe you get it validated, then you come up with a creative idea, produce some materials and release them out into the wild. Job done? Well, no. What you have done is the easy bit. You arranged all your pieces and you set the board up. Now it’s time to play.
The biggest brands represent very clear, simple, focused ideas. Nike is synonymous with sport because it has spent countless billions in marketing itself on that idea for decades. Coca-Cola means happiness because it has spent billions in forming that association. Consumers believe they deserve L’Oreal because the brand has been telling them they are worth it since 1973.
If you want to make your EVP a success you need to think about it in similar terms. The purpose of an EVP is to express the values most important to a company as a place of work. Therefore, in order to make this a truly effective endeavour, there are two primary tasks at hand.
- Continually improving the degree to which those values are ingrained into the way the company operates
- Continually assessing the suitability of those values against what the company needs to achieve.
And those are simply not going to become pavlovian-like associations without concerted effort and prolonged commitment to growing that core.
So by all means, tweak, modify and amend based on learning as you go. But stick with it. Your EVP is the expression of your employer brand, and your employer brand is the expression of your culture. And cultures don’t change overnight. They evolve over time. So once you’ve gone to the trouble of identifying your core, you owe it yourself to grow it. Because your brand is worth it too.