This week I sat down with Mike Beeley to discuss the three main components needed to successfully build a company’s EVP. The core components are time, information and relationships. It’s essential to collect the right data, be agile in analysis and manage the right groups of stakeholders. Mike Beeley is the CEO of Lightbox Communications and has spent the last 30 years helping global and local organisations understand their EVP and how to market their employment proposition to their target audiences through traditional and emerging media. Here are our insights.
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What Are the Three Key Components to Develop an EVP for a Company?
The top three ones would be time, information and relationships.
Firstly, time. We’ve been into a lot of organisations where they’ve already spent a year attempting to complete their EVP project. Unfortunately, after this amount of time, most of their research is already obsolete. They’ve gotten stuck in the gap between research, results and the corresponding articulation and analysis. Since they haven’t then derived meaningful solutions and conclusions, they then struggle to get to the creative stage and the rollout stage. The timeframes we recommend, no matter the size of the organisation, is within three months – certainly no longer than six months if it’s a big organisation. If it’s a global business, it can take longer, but the average Australian employer should contain their EVP project to a three to six month period. By doing this, it ensures we keep momentum and consistent decision-makers through the project, and the resulting rollout. The people who are there and excited at the start are usually still there and excited by the end.
Stakeholders or Relationships
The next point is stakeholders or relationships. This point refers to getting the right people on board at the start. Typically, the ‘right’ people are going to be leadership. You need to think very carefully about the people who will otherwise potentially derail an EVP project at some point down the track. Think about the influential people in the organisation and don’t just involve the people around the table who cheer and wave when you mention the acronym EVP.
What’s an example of a particular stakeholder that might cause a ‘disaster’?
Primarily the leadership team, or a subset of the executive team. Someone has to support and endorse the EVP project in the organisation. Interestingly, the CFO is usually a great idea to have on board, if she or he sees the project as a business-critical initiative, they will use their influence and persuasion to get it over the line. The CEO certainly needs to know that the project is a good idea, so it needs to be sold to them in a way that they understand and is relevant to them and their goals for the organisation.
Does Building an EVP Need to Be Sold or Can it Sell Itself?
The solution it provides and the results it produces will sell itself. However, most organisations are not clean canvases. They’ll have stains all over their EVP canvases, they’ve got paintings that have already been started, removed and then painted over again. Very often in an organisation, an EVP has already been attempted. Unfortunately, if it’s been tried poorly, without help, an appropriate strategy or proper internal support then it’s probably failed. The term EVP will have become covered in dog hair and chewing gum, and it will become an unpopular phrase in the organisation. You’ll hear some CEO’s say ‘we did our EVP two years ago and it had no impact, so I’m not about to do that again’.
People become averse to these branding projects because they view it as a waste of everyone’s time given that the poorly executed attempt in the past came up with an inaccurate solution. Now, if you haven’t got that, it’s great. If we haven’t got that and yes, the leadership team does understand that the engagement and the attraction of the best possible talent available is one of their top three priorities, then we’re halfway there.
What’s the Best Methodology to ‘Get it Right’ with Stakeholders?
What it will involve is substantial research, external help, a lot of time from the leadership, each person in the team needs to be interviewed. Also, a large proportion of the organisation needs to be interviewed personally. Then, once we do all this, we start making an expectation that things are going to change. It’s a very personal thing – most of us spend more time with our leaders than our life partners. There’s the phrase ‘survey fatigue,’ that you’ll hear across a lot of organisations.
‘Oh no we can’t ask them again, we’ve already asked them.’
In my view, it’s probably not survey fatigue, instead ‘survey cynicism.’ Most people do like talking about their employment. What they don’t like is going through the process of unleashing their problems and opinions, and then nothing’s done about it. That creates a big problem,
‘I didn’t mind it before when you just ignored me, but now you’ve half-promised change and not delivered on it. You’ve lied to me.’
Doing this changes the dynamic of the organisation enormously. This risk is why an EVP project can scare leadership teams, particularly if they’ve had an experience of it being done poorly by another organisation. In essence, it can damage the organisation.
Managing Internal Stakeholder Conflict
Establishing the value of the EVP or employer branding project in an organisation is the easy bit. Getting everyone to agree on how we go about it is the hard part. If you have a strong brand presence in the marketplace, then you are going to have a robust discussion with your brand department about who owns the project. You are talking about doing a similar project to what they want to do. They’ll talk about internalising the consumer promise – which aims to answer the question, ‘how do we engage our employees into making our customers happy all the time?‘ That’s about what’s right for the organisation.
Then HR comes into this – ‘that’s great, but how do we engage people to want to do that? How do we empower them to do that?‘ Often marketing will say they don’t care. So what usually happens is that an HR department will embark on an EVP and marketing will get scared because it involves promises and behaviours, so they will come and derail it reasonably often if they see that’s the case. Getting the marketing team on board with an EVP or branding project is vital.
The third key component when building a company’s EVP is information. There’s a tendency in organisations to be overconfident that they know how their people think. Ask the CEO, of course they know what everyone thinks… ask marketing, ask HR. Well, that’s not always the case. People aren’t always transparent and honest in their discussions with their employers about what they perceive to be wrong in the organisation. It might be tolerably wrong, but if intolerably wrong, we’ve got a problem.
Using an external group to tease out the information that the organisation needs to hear, not the stuff they’d like to hear, but the things they need to understand. Once we hear the reality, we can do something about improving it or keeping it if it’s already working. Very often, it’s pure luck that an organisation creates a compelling EVP without proper research.
The reason that research is so essential is that sometimes three months later when we’ve got all of our research articulation and conclusions in place, we are going to go to leadership and ask them for change. For example – we need to stop talking about work-life balance because most people in your organisation are working 60 hours a week and they aren’t too happy about it. You either provide the work-life balance you talk about, or you stop talking about it.
We might find we have a big problem with separate components of the workforce. Perhaps we find that we have an unconscious bias in the organisation. Maybe we then find we have a problem with diversity and conclusion. Find out what’s wrong with the organisation by asking people and empowering them to give the truth without fear of ramifications.
A Common Information Mistake
One of the main mistakes that organisations often make is that when they’re asking people questions, they put HR in the room. No one’s going to be honest with you in that instance. It’s like having your dad at your 21’ st party – it just ruins the mood!
Another tip is that when conducting focus groups where you talk to half a dozen or more people at a time, you should never have people at different levels of authority. Why? Because the only people that are going to talk are the ‘important’ people. The junior people are not going to say anything truthful, particularly if it has anything to do with the people sitting next to them. There are some tried and tested, and essential means of gathering research data that we know are going to be true. We need to be confident that the data is unequivocally accurate because we are going to be asking the leadership team for something. That request may be money, some form of change, or for some difficult decisions to get made. Their first instinct is going to be to ask why?
‘Why do we need to do this? Is it your opinion?‘
No, we have researched the organisation, it’s unequivocal that we need to enact this change.
Quality Data and Information is Essential
The quality of the research – the questions asked and the environment where or who the person is – can make or break the whole pedigree of the data and the project. The first reaction of any leadership team that doesn’t want to spend money, or is prudent, is to pick apart the data.
‘How do we know this is true?’
If you haven’t got robust enough research and the seams rip in front of your eyes, you’re not going to get support for the project. That’s often where these projects fail, because the research wasn’t conducted properly to meet or support the changes that need to be made.
Recruitment is Marketing. Externally and Internally.
Recruitment is marketing. It’s one of the main aspects. When you’re doing any research about a product, whether people like a product or not, you get them into an environment where people taste or experience the product. There are so many rules about how to conduct that type of research. Some organisations charge a lot of money for facilitating that research because they produce a lot of reliable data – it takes a lot of experience to get that right.
The very act of doing an EVP project can impact your engagement levels. The word spreads. You’ll generally only speak to 5 to 10% of an organisation. These people include all the leadership team and people at different levels of tenure, from new starters to people who’ve been there a little longer. We’ll talk to skill-short groups, which we particularly want to know about since they will provide an endorsement for the project. If we can find 5 of these people, it pays for the EVP project entirely. Once we’ve spoken to these people, they then talk to everyone else within days. The whole organisation then knows the project is going on even if nobody’s ever told them. This phenomenon creates an expectation that something’s going to change, hopefully for the better.
Rapid and Agile Implementation is Essential for an EVP Project
This expectation of change is a fundamental reason supporting the three-month timeline mentioned at the beginning. If you don’t do something in three months, you’ve created disengagement. It’s like that phrase,
‘When you join a company, you have 100 days to make an impact, and if you haven’t made an impact within 100 days, you are deemed to have become part of the problem.‘
Most organisations are run like this – I definitely see 100-day cycles in most large organisations. Three months seems to be a significant timeframe. I don’t know why, it just is! The act of doing an EVP or an EVP project can create an enormous positive expectation amongst the workforce. If we can deliver on that, and we certainly don’t have to fix everything. Still, as long as we’ve edged the organisation forwards, we’re showing progress, we’re showing a transformation, and we’re showing direction. You will increase engagement, and once you’ve done that you can then start looking at other tactics. People are more likely to refer other valuable people if they’re already engaged in an organisation!
Missed the other parts with Mike Beeley? Check them out here:
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