How to Define Who You Are to Employees

Odds are, your employees can articulate what you do as a company, the services you offer, and the products you sell. But can they speak to who you are, and why you’re a great employer? For many companies, this is an area of real struggle — and this struggle can lead to a lack of engagement.

To rectify this, you must identify your company’s Employee Value Proposition (EVP) — that is, who you are and why people should work for you. Think of this as your “employment brand.”

An EVP consists of a clear and compelling story that describes, among other things, why people want to work for your firm, key points that differentiate your firm from its competitors, and a message that resonates with and engages staff. If your firm has an engaging, healthy culture, developing an enticing EVP is a breeze.

Every firm should crystallize and document its EVP. An effective EVP includes the following:

  • A clear and compelling story that describes why people want to work for you

  • Key points that differentiate your firm from its competitors

  • A theme that prompts candidates to self-select in or out (A strong EVP helps to ensure the “right” people seek out your firm and helps to discourage those who simply aren’t a fit from applying. Let's face it, the Marines aren't for everyone — which is why their EVP is all about being one of "the few.")

  • A message that resonates with and engages existing staff

That last point is key. It’s how you know your EVP is accurate. That said, the EVP doesn’t have to be based strictly in reality. It can be equal parts reality, aspiration, and inspiration.

So, how do you define your firm’s EVP? Follow these steps:

  1. Create a committee of key employees.

    This committee should be a diverse group of people, representing marketing, HR, operations, and leadership. If you’re a small organization, start with you and two or three of your key people.

  2. Make a list of high-performing employees who have exceled within your culture.

  3. Identify the behaviors and traits that are shared among these high-performing employees.

  4. Conduct a series of interviews with these high-performing employees.

    Ask them such questions as the following:

    • Why do you work here?

    • Why do you stay here?

    • What are the best things about working here?

    • Why do people leave competitors to join us?

    • What makes this firm unique? (For more info on this point, see the upcoming sidebar.)

    Don't get too caught up in what your firm does. The idea is to pinpoint what makes you unique, what defines your culture, and why people jump out of bed to come to work in the morning.

  5. If you’re feeling ambitious, conduct an employee engagement survey and/or pulse survey to help identify your EVP.

  6. Using information gathered in the previous steps, develop a draft EVP.

    Your EVP should also align with your firm's mission or purpose, vision, values, and strategy.

  7. Share your draft EVP with your leadership team, and work together with them to finalize the EVP.

Learn from a few examples of memorable EVPs:

  • Apple: Think Different

  • Southwest Airlines: Freedom to Travel Around the Country

  • Disney: The Happiest Place on Earth

If your firm has an engaging, healthy culture — think Google, Apple, Nordstrom, Whirlpool, and so on — you’ll find developing an enticing EVP quite easy. But what if your work is challenging or stressful? In that case, honesty is probably the best policy. Take this help wanted ad, posted in 1914 by British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, who sought men for an expedition to Antarctica:

Men Wanted for Hazardous Journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.

To say Shackleton’s EVP was “not attractive” to many people is an understatement. But by being honest about the challenges — and about the possible rewards — Shackleton attracted 5,000 inquiries for the 27 positions on his vessel.

Perhaps more important, Shackleton was able to use his help wanted ad to frighten off those who were not fit for the journey and to attract those who truly identified with the role. Shackleton recognized that hiring the right kinds of people, with the right behaviors and traits (more on that in a moment), was critical to engaging a group of explorers to achieve success.

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