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How to stop EVP “best practice” causing you problems

Prioritising what makes you personally feel good is actually the way to make an EVP program successful.


If you’re new to the responsibility of managing an employer brand, you’re probably digesting as much as you can to learn as quickly as you can, the right process, practices and priorities: that EVP "best practice". I will stake my 20 years in managing employer brand/EVP programs on saying this is not the right approach.


“Why?!” you shout. Don’t get me wrong: good process, practices and priorities are important but if you loose sight of one very important thing I guarantee you will either get lost in the fascinating data or distracted by the creative opportunities that will come with a program. Getting lost or distracted is not a good way to deliver meaningful outcomes.


That “one very important thing” is remembering and prioritising the importance to us personally, of doing something for another person. Acts of generosity are what make all of us humans regardless of profession, culture or life-stage, feel good about ourselves. Doing this releases oxytocin. Oxytocin not only makes us feel good, it increases our ability to solve problems and to be creative, bolsters our immune systems and makes us healthier, and enhances our ability to interact and collaborate with others directly around us.


Think about the last time you took the time to give directions to a lost tourist, or helped out a struggling colleague, or if you have kids, made the effort to create that intricately themed birthday cake rather than just going with the default chocolate version.



Personal gratification and employer brand management


So, what does all this personal gratification have to do with managing an employer brand? The whole purpose of managing an employer brand is to connect people with the employment experiences that make them happy, productive and grow – by removing the misconceptions and knowledge-gaps that stop them from doing this themselves. Employer branding is – or we advise it should be – an act of generosity.


You’ve probably been told that, no, the purpose of an employer brand is just to attract the most “best” candidates as creatively and efficiently as possible. The problem with this simpler “process” approach is that it encourages you into the bad habits of simply communicating what most current employees most like about you, or what your leaders are most proud of. While this may be a truth, in reality most - if not all - of these “most liked” and “most proud of” things are actually shared by your talent competitors. This process focus far too often leaves you with vanilla messaging you’re your leaders love but doesn’t actually cut through with candidates, regardless of the effort, budget and creativity put into the articulation.


If your focus is “best practice” process it is simply too easy to land on feel-good platitudes and rely on creative trickery to add life to them. But a focus on “better helping candidates be happy, productive and grow”, you are forced to understand and then communicate about things truly relevant to candidates and in a way that you know with be engaging and authentic.


Why "ask why"?


Here, I want to introduce (and re-purpose) Simon Sinek’s “ask why?” model to better explain both why there is a commercially better employer branding approach than the “best practice focus” approach, and how this better approach enables you to reliably feel good about yourself along the way.


In short, Sinek explains that most organisations’ marketing strategies are based on saying “what” they do/produce, then on “how” they do it but almost never articulate “why” they do it (and maximising shareholder return is never going to be a meaningful “why” for the average person to buy into!). Doing this is a reliable way to ensure you become no more than a commodity that will never make a human connection with consumers. Not rocket science but most organisations still do this anyway. But finding others who share their “why” is what consumers – and job seekers – are desperately looking for in the 21st century. Most organisations really have their marketing priorities wrong, costing them customer loyalty, revenue and profitability.


They – and you – should prioritise talking about the “why” first. And only then talk about the “how” you go about executing that, and then the “what” you do as evidence. People subconsciously and emotively connect with your “why” because it’s what most deeply resonates with their own personal “why”.


One of the most important workforce trends this century is the increasing desire for people to have and be a part of a meaningful purpose. And this is where prioritising “why” in employer brand management is critical. You must prioritise the search for defining why you exist as an organisation.


I know this sounds incredibly existential but understanding this will reliably explain the operational and people priorities that create your culture, your (real) values, and the employment experience you are hoping to attract candidates into. As a bonus, this enables you to define exactly what an “ideal” candidate means for you. And then, importantly, enable you to authentically explain to this ideal person why and how you are the best place for them to be happy, be productive and grow.


This sort of “best” candidate actually will be more productive for you, stay longer and generate more revenue, customer loyalty/stakeholder buy-in, and be easier and cheaper to manage.



The pay-off in asking "why"


So, beginning with identifying this purpose (your “why”) then compels you to identify the “why” “how” and “what” of your ideal candidate (that will make them happy, productive and grow), that matches your own employment experience. This then enables you to more objectively identify not just the competing “why/how/what” across your talent competitors, but the misconceptions your ideal candidates have about your own “why/how/what” that are preventing them from pursuing their ideal career path with you (and in-turn providing you with productive employees with the right fit).


This approach, prioritising the “why” compels you to really understand the psychology, motivations, perspectives, drivers, misconceptions and knowledge-gaps among your ideal candidates and enables you to connect these with the realities of your employment experience to craft relevant, engaging, and authentic conversations and messaging, that reliably cut through subconsciously and emotively.


One of the reasons I’ve stayed in the employer brand world for 20 years, is the satisfaction I draw from helping somewhere in excess of 20,000 people to find a job, career or employer that’s better helped them be happy, be productive and grow – personally and professionally. Along the way, I’ve also helped thousands of line mangers and leaders also be happier, more productive and grow, because they’ve had more productive, better-fit employees delivering for them. And helped a few hundred organisations be more effective, productive and profitable as a result.


To this day, probably my proudest moment in these 20-years of employer brand consulting was achieving a pay rise for the 3,500 minimum wage employees of my client: first and foremost, the relatively small pay rise tipped the important balance that enabled employees to avoid the need for second jobs or working excessive shifts, significantly improving the mental health, physical health, family health, and employment experience health among most of those 3,500 people. Secondly, it reduced turnover from close to 50% down to 10% (solving the external recruitment problem quite quickly) and increased the productivity of people at work. Combined, these two more than made up for the increased salary costs. But they also enabled employees to better physically and mentally deliver the customer value proposition, achieving the organisation’s purpose, and increasing sales.

I prioritised a focus on the “why” for the organisation and for the ideal candidate. As I was facilitating the focus groups, analysing the data, distilling the insights, and crafting the strategies and campaigns, this focus is what stopped me getting distracted by the fascinating human insights, the glitzy creative, and what the theoretical “best practice” should have been in the “how” and “what” along the way.


So, what's in it for you?


Yes – do learn and master the “how” and “what” but prioritise and never lose sight of the “why” you’re doing this.


In wrapping up, I want to again borrow and re-purpose Simon Sinek’s “ask why” model.

Just as my approach in prioritising “asking why” on behalf of my clients has helped them, it has also helped me personally: I’m incredibly happy knowing that “why” I do employer branding is because it helps a lot of people better find that ideal job/career/employer that will make them happier, more productive and grow, than where they were heading. Every project results in my body producing that oxytocin.


The beginning of the year is a good time to think about these things. I’d not only recommend you start by asking “why” for your organisation and candidates, but for yourself. If you’re managing an employer brand - really, why do you do what you do? How can you do what you do to benefit not just your organisation and your KPIs, but candidates, employees – and yourself.

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