Develop your EVPs: 5 vital steps toward a competitive employer brand

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February 19, 2020
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Budget

Your budget is time. Set aside 8-10 hours: 2-3 hours for prep and scheduling, 3 hours for the workshop, and 3-5 hours for analysis.

Timeline

Less than one week.

Require team members

See “Assemble Your Team” below.

Best for

Companies that have executive sponsorship for culture-building, regardless of size or stage.
Employer Value Propositions are extremely valuable. They're a unique set of offerings that will likely inform every recruiting asset you create for your target audience. To discover yours, you'll have to recognize the advantages as well as the challenges of the employee experience at your company; in other words, you don’t have to have the perfect culture to pull this off. Told well, how your team feels, and the stories they tell will resonate with ideal candidates. But what should you highlight? What makes working at your company a unique experience? The fastest and most cost-effective way to answer these questions is this project: a half-day workshop to discover your Employer Value Propositions, or EVPs.
To put it bluntly, your EVPs are the reason top talent will say yes to you and no to Facebook, Apple, or Google.
This project is designed to transform something abstract—feelings employees have about the essence of your company—into a tangible, useful tool. You'll use our EVP Discovery Worksheet, which is carefully structured to help you pinpoint the qualities that distinguish your company and make it attractive to your favorite candidates.
Click above to download the worksheet.

EVP discovery—one of the key components of employer branding—has proven value. Some enterprise businesses spend six months and upwards of $1 million to nail down EVPs and develop their employer brands. Assuming that’s beyond your budget, consider this project a sweet spot. We believe this is the minimum amount of work you can put into EVPs that will achieve a sufficiently creative and actionable result.

PROJECT PREREQUISITES

There’s no specific threshold you need to cross before diving into EVP work. At Job Portraits, we’ve worked with stable, 500-person companies that are establishing EVPs for the first time. We’ve also seen tiny startups codify EVPs in their first year as a core element of their recruiting strategy. Is your company ready? See if any of these statements resonate:
  • Your team members all tell potential candidates something different about their work experience
  • You're recruiting passive candidates
  • You’re competing against companies with deeper pocketbooks
  • You’re getting poor response rates to outbound emails
Notably, if you’re facing a deeper cultural issue or serious misalignment, this project isn’t the place to start. Alignment at least needs to be in sight before you dive in. Feel free to get in touch with us at Job Portraits to get a second opinion.

DEFINITION

EVP stands for Employer Value Proposition. These are key qualities or values that underpin the work environment of a particular team or an entire company. An effective EVP is what will distinguish you from other companies. (Notably, EVPs are not the same as benefits or perks. Your kombucha on tap and free tampons in the restrooms are nice touches, but they’re not going tip the scales for the best talent.) A strong EVP can be broken into three main components:
  • The idea. When we refer to EVPs, we primarily mean short blurbs, each from a few words to a few sentences. They are not public-facing, so they don’t need to be perfectly phrased. They’re used to create clarity and build alignment with internal stakeholders. In the long-term, these will work behind the scenes and shape a wide range of candidate messaging, from job descriptions, to paid marketing, to blog posts, and more.
  • The proof. Every EVP should be backed up by evidence: services, allowances, or experiences a company offers its employees. Consider this component a reality check: if you're striving for a certain culture, you better have real-life examples to back it up. Your proof will inform your copywriting.
  • Copywriting. This is the exact language you’ll use to publicly articulate your EVPs. Some companies develop one tagline and push it relentlessly; others use multiple taglines; other companies forget taglines entirely. Whatever your path, there are many use-cases for precise copywriting. Notably, this project does not include copywriting.
Here's a quick example:
  • Idea/EVP: Mentorship
  • Proof: A company program that pairs new hires with company veterans for weekly check-ins
  • Copywriting: On your careers page, copy that reads something like, “One team,” “Learn from the best,” or “At our company, we help each other grow.”
With all this in mind, ready to get started?


STEP 1: ASSEMBLE YOUR TEAM

In order to determine company-wide EVPs, a few key players are vital for the workshop’s success. Make sure you get these people in the room:
  • A top-level leader. Ideally, your CEO and/or a founder.
  • A senior leader in your People department, preferably your CHRO (or equivalent).
  • One leader from each of the following functions: 1. Marketing, 2. PR/Communications, 3. The team(s) with the most pressing hiring needs
  • One or two long-time employees who embody your company culture
  • One or two new hires who can bring a fresh perspective
While most EVP Discovery workshops are indeed company-wide, you can also focus on a specific team that has urgent hiring needs. We recommend setting your sights on company EVPs, but if you plan to only involve one team, gather similar attendees nonetheless: a senior team leader, someone from marketing/PR/comms, and one or two team veterans and new hires.
When choosing participants for this project, be cognizant of representation. If possible, it’s best to have a mix of people who represent different levels of experience, different professional backgrounds, and a range of ages, races, ethnicities, and genders.

STEP 2: SCHEDULE AND PREPARE

In our experience, these workshops usually take about four hours. This is a major commitment, especially for execs, so it’s best to get time on everyone’s calendar well in advance. 
Next, gather supplies:

STEP 3: FACILITATE THE WORKSHOP

Finally, it’s time to get started!

Once you have your dream team assembled in a conference room, Avenger’s-style, pass out hard copies of the EVP Discovery Worksheet. The worksheet addresses several high-level categories—Product Vision, People, Learning Development, Work Routines and Practices, Values, Social Vibe, Space and Location, Perks and Compensation, and Challenges—with specific questions to draw out insights. 
Before beginning, explain the goals of the workshop and preface it by setting an expectation of honesty and openness; no one is there to judge. We recommend using this short script to set the tone:
A few things to keep in mind as we dive in. Although EVPs will ultimately help shape our employer brand strategy, what we’re brainstorming today is not public-facing. There’s no need to edit yourself. Don’t be afraid to be candid. Remember, as much as we’re trying to attract the candidates who will thrive here, we also need to give folks who aren’t the right fit the chance to opt out, so honesty is crucial.

STEP 3.1: Divvy up the questions among attendees.
Assign each category in the worksheet to a different person. Instruct them to write their answers to individual questions on sticky notes.
STEP 3.2: Instruct attendees to work individually.
Assign each attendee one category of questions from the worksheet, and set a timer for five minutes. Once time is up, assign each attendee a new category that no one has tackled yet. Ask everyone to keep track of which sticky notes answer which questions. Repeat until every question has been answered by at least one attendee.

Make sure everyone takes a stab at each question, but don’t worry if some don’t resonate. Keep a close eye on which are easier to answer; this will provide a gut check on which EVPs to emphasize.

STEP 3.3: As a group, organize the sticky notes on the whiteboard by category.

No need to keep track of whose sticky notes are whose. If you want, you can record the conversation in this step (and the next step) for reference. As you talk through each answer, you’ll most likely notice certain responses pop up more than others. This leads us to the next part of step 3…

STEP 3.4: As a group, arrange the responses into themes.

Move the sticky notes around the whiteboard or wall to form clusters of similar answers, regardless of the question they originally answered. As a group, come up with a name—it can be a word, a phrase, or a full sentence—for each thematic cluster. These are your first-draft EVPs.

STEP 4: NARROW IN

Okay, so you’ve got 50+ sticky notes on the whiteboard. What next?
First, take a look at the themes you’ve identified. Pro-tip: don’t ignore outlier responses that don’t fit neatly into any one theme. These are sometimes the most notable differentiators, or, at the very least, will spark interesting conversations about the company culture.
Next, choose 3-5 themes that have lots of personal anecdotes from employees to back them up. Try to choose themes that are rare in your talent market and that excite you and your team. Now, these are not only your most poignant company hallmarks; these are your EVPs! 

Lastly, don’t try to copywrite (there are professionals for that). As we mentioned before, EVPs are not public-facing. The language you use to capture your EVPs doesn’t need to be polished or catchy, it just needs to be clear and concise.

STEP 5: WHAT’S NEXT?

Determining your EVPs is an essential step toward implementing a cohesive, compelling employer brand. But it’s only the first step. Here’s a quick rundown of behaviors and assets EVPs can drive:
  • How employees talk about your company: to candidates, friends, and a larger audience online
  • Public-facing content: job descriptions, careers page, company blog, social media
  • Recruiting assets: blog posts or stories about current employees or interesting projects; a public-facing document explaining the interview process
  • Internal alignment: current employees share a common view of their experience
To make an open secret even more open, consider this: the more you talk about what really makes your company uniquely awesome, the more excited your employees will be to work there, and the higher quality their work will be.
Creating, executing, and maintaining an employer brand can be daunting, but it’s also achievable and can have tremendous long-term value. As your journey progresses, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We’re always happy to talk shop and help you find the right next step for your company.