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A deal's a deal: Personalising your employee value proposition

Bettina Pickering, Fiona Quarrie and Janet Windeatt
PA Consulting Group
HR Zone
22 August 2008

This article explores how to improve retention by matching the expectations and promises set at the recruitment stage with the actual employee value proposition.

As the cost of sourcing talent increases and filling positions with the right staff gets harder, it is increasingly important that new recruits and existing employees feel that their company's employment promise matches reality. Disenchanted employees will leave - and before they do, they tend to give less than their best work and often their dissatisfaction spreads to their co-workers.

What is EVP?

The employee value proposition (EVP) describes the 'deal' the employee gets in exchange for their effort, commitment and loyalty to the organisation. This encompasses financial reward and benefits, learning and development opportunities, work content, quality of leadership and social and physical work environment.

When offered a new employment contract, most candidates will decide to sign on the basis of not only pay, but will also take into consideration other elements of the employee value proposition (EVP) that are particularly important to them. Some of these may be level of role, content of work, position, culture, team, line manager and/or training.

Based on their interview(s) and exposure to the company's corporate brand, the candidate will develop certain employment expectations about 'the deal'. On joining, the employee will experience the reality of that deal, comparing it to the initial promise and expectations raised.

We're reminded of the scene in the film 'Private Benjamin', where Goldie Hawn is on the marching field with the drill sergeant and, with wide-eyed idealism, says that there must be some mistake – she joined the army with the condo and the private rooms! The reality of long marches in the heat did not quite match the recruitment promise.

If the promise is not anchored in reality, employees will leave

If the 'deal gap' is perceived as too large and unbridgeable, very few individuals will bother giving the organisation their discretionary effort. They will, however, focus their efforts on looking for a new job, which they believe is more likely to deliver against its declared promises.

Most companies have written EVP documentation that lays out what rewards the employee can expect to receive for their time and effort. But it is clearly not enough if these are not widely understood, consistently applied and lived day–by-day, especially by the people the new employee will come in contact with most such as their line manager, HR business partners and team members.

There's truth in the saying 'people do not leave companies, they leave their managers'

Often the candidate's line manager is not present at the interview stage and therefore has no idea what the candidate's individual expectations are when they join. This means they may focus on the EVP elements that are important to them, not necessarily those important to the candidate.

For example, while a candidate will assume that their preference for international travel, stated at the interview phase, has been passed onto their new line manager, this isn't always the case.

Line managers should explore new employee's expectations and EVP priorities

It is surprising that few companies ask employees what is important for them before or on joining. Most employers will get candidates to fill in psychometric, English language and mathematical ability questionnaires, but fail to ask about an employee's personal work preferences.

Yet, not all elements of the value proposition will be equally important to all employees. For example, 'working in a team instead of alone' and 'doing interesting work' may be more valuable for some than 'taking advantage of regular health assessments'.

Knowing what made the company attractive to join in the first place will help the line manager and HR business partner better manage the expectations of the new joiner and ensure that the employee is exposed to the elements of the employment proposition that are most important to them.

Personalising the value proposition seems like a lot of work... or is it?

Although you do not necessarily need to change your standard EVP, it is good practice to review it regularly and ensure it is consistently delivered and closely aligned to the corporate strategy and company values.

A key action is to clarify and communicate internally the main pillars or elements of your EVP, confirming those areas that are fixed and highlighting any that offer personalisation.

Pay, for example, is usually a given and does not tend to change between pre-employment and the first few months of employment. Whereas, in addition to offering flexible benefits, other individualised EVP items might include job content, working patterns, learning and development prospects, social and community involvement opportunities and other culture-related components.

Explore with the candidate what matters to them personally by using a focussed and short questionnaire. The line manager can then use this information to make sure that the employee takes full advantage of the EVP elements that are most important for them. For example, if teamwork is the highest on a candidate's list, their line manager should ensure this individual gets to work with other people on a regular basis.

Of course, these preferences may change over time, so it is a good idea to check-in what elements of the EVP are important to employees on a regular basis. Even asking the question will demonstrate your desire to make the employment deal a fair and rewarding one - with the added pay-off of being able to retain and attract talent and ultimately improve business success.

Bettina Pickering is a Managing Consultant for PA Consulting Group. Since joining PA in 1997, Bettina has worked across a variety of private sector industries (various manufacturing, chemicals, postal, telecommunications, legal, banking and insurance) and public sector clients (Health and Work & Pensions). Her focus is on managing and delivering Business Transformation projects (in particular HR and Finance Transformation), Employer Branding and Engagement initiatives and Business and IT-enabled Change programmes.

Janet Windeatt has significant experience working with senior executives on the development and implementation of robust people strategies designed to deliver corporate business plan objectives. Janet has a breadth of international experience, having worked in the US and the UK, delivering HR and IT initiatives that focus on developing a high performing workforce.

Fiona Quarrie is a Consultant in PA’s People and Organisation Change practice. Prior to PA, Fiona has undertaken a range of in-house HR roles, predominantly in the Financial Services sector and specifically the insurance industry.  She has a strong background in capability and talent development as well as recent experience in the fields of employee engagement, employer branding and HR strategy development.

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