The debate around EVP ownership goes a bit like this.
“Employers are in control”
“No! Your value proposition is determined by employees, idiot”
And it’s no surprise really that we haven’t been able to settle this.
The Traditional Definition of EVP
Traditionally, the definition and use for an EVP was based on what we call “binary thinking”. This is choice between two definitions. Either: an employer gets their big thinkers into a room to come up with their positioning, which then gets passed over to the HR, managing and marketing to broadcast in discussions about talent sourcing, job ads and in defining employment packages. Or, potential or existing employees define the value proposition themselves. Usually based on a mix of rumour, impressions (from recruitment ads, conversations with mates on the inside etc) and from personal experiences.
Like most things in life it’s simple and satisfying to boil issues down into binary: you’re left or right, atheist or a believer, the dress was white and gold, or blue and black. It’s so satisfying to take a side. But, like most binary arguments that involve people, both sides think the other is totally misguided, and both sides are also both equally right.
When talking about who “owns” or defines an EVP, the answer isn’t binary. It’s not even circular – it’s more complex even than that. It’s organic, and swirly like an ocean-current map, with a variety of influencers affecting and being affected by each other. It means control shifts and transfers depending on the who, the what and the when.
If we accept this “tidal map” model, then we have to start thing about EVP as an organic, fluid process that’s affected by far more stakeholders than we ever considered before.
So what does that actually mean? We reckon the smart money is on looking over the fence and learning from the way new-skool marketers and brand strategists are thinking about brand as a whole.
Back in the slightly-older days, marketers took a ‘dictatorship’ approach to determining and communicating a company’s brand value proposition, where they determined the brand, then broadcast it to the masses (internal and external). People received these messages with no expectation of really having much input. In the new digital landscape, consumers are no longer passive in that brand story. New media gives them a voice and allows them to impact brands, marketing and products in a way that was simply not possible before.
The ‘New Skool’ Approach
This ‘new skool’ approach says that a company can and should cede the bulk of their control as soon as they’ve had their first interaction with their consumers. It allows brands to guide stories and conversations, but not control them. Brands no longer sit in tidy, defined little boxes. They’re now treated like pulsing, shifting blobs of personality – almost sentient in the way they grow and evolve. Responsive to the way consumers are using them or behaving towards and around them. Our company defines its core values (things it cares about and stands for) and the larger impact it wants to have on the world and its consumers’ lives.
Within those loose parameters, the consumer influences everything. From how the brand looks, to product lines to how services and products are delivered.
The wider (potential-consumer) market has a role to play as well. As these new companies are always looking to “recruit” new consumers, they investigate new markets. They’re looking for the synchronicity between what potential new customers’ needs and desires, and the brand’s core values and offerings.
This ménage-trois of existing consumer-driven definition, company-directed core values and offerings, and wider-market desires is what drives innovation, and thereby, defines the brand’s own value proposition.
This shift in the branding and marketing industry isn’t a perfect analogy for the current EVP debate. There are complexities in EVP, recruiting and HR management that make the landscape a bit different. But there’s plenty that can be learned from this new thinking from our marketing-cousins.
No One, And Everyone Owns EVP
Rather than arguing over who ‘owns’ an employer value proposition, maybe we should just accept that no one and everyone does. Just as a brand manager no longer ‘owns’ their company’s brand, neither does an employer ‘own’ their EVP. It doesn’t mean they have no power – a brand manager can set core values and an employer can set a value proposition intention.
With combined effort from HR, marketing, senior management (with input from legal and finance), the employer sets a foundation to facilitate and encourage delivery of that intention – this is not top-down enforcement of a predefined EVP. Rather it’s creating an environment in which an EVP that delivers on the intention can emerge organically. Levers that help guide this process could be the way you structure contracts, work-spaces, departments (or you know, lack of departments), interesting remuneration structures, cool culture building ideas and diverse hiring policies.
Employees who work within this framework are encouraged and facilitated to deliver on your intention through an organic EVP.
Meanwhile, the management and HR are working alongside, ready to respond, to guide behaviours and adjust their policies and proposition. Rather than a company trying to change its people and operation to suit their own agenda, the employer evolves to reflect the way their people want to work.
In this way, the employees are given huge control over EVP. Within the parameters of the intention, the company culture and value delivered by the employer is determined by the employee. If the needs of the employees change, why not amend the way remuneration is handled? Could you introduce a four-day week? What about breaking down those silo walls?
When the company is responsive, the employees share control and determine the value they’re getting.
The prospective employee market sees this slightly-democratically defined EVP messaging in recruitment ads and other employer branding activities. But it’s also supplemented by crowd-sourced platforms like Glassdoor and Trip Advisor, word of mouth and of course, social media. How they hear, interpret and understand the EVP from those messages is then continually developed and enhanced through their own sharing.
Just like a brand has to be left in the market to be evolved by everyone involved, so too is an EVP owned by, well, everyone the company touches.
Terrifying prospect? A little bit. But also, liberating and exciting. It means an EVP becomes less of a marketing exercise and more of a true reflection of the company. It will reward companies who are honest, transparent and truly care about and invest in their people. Those are the ones we should be filling the world with, don’t you think?
So next time someone asks you “do employees or employers own the EVP?”
Just take their arm, smile and say, “yes.”
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