The role of EVP in Culture

Nick Wright is an internal communications expert with broad-based reputation, employee engagement and marketing experience - global and UK, in-house and consultancy. Over the years he has worked with corporate, private and professional services organisations and run successful integrated campaigns enhancing both reputation and sales. 

During his time as Communications Director at BDO, a leading accountancy firm, he worked on developing the group’s Employer Value Proposition, following its merger with PFK. 

We met with Nick about the importance of EVP in terms of company culture. 

WHY IS THE EMPLOYER VALUE PROPOSITION (EVP) IMPORTANT AS IT RELATES TO COMPANY CULTURE? 

It’s of crucial importance. The culture of the company permeates everything it does and to formally acknowledge its importance in the way the company presents itself to potential, existing (and departed) people is a significant start point. It then becomes a symbiotic relationship in which the EVP needs to reflect the organisational culture while, at the same time, understanding the needs, motivations and attitudes of existing and potential employees which in itself may influence the desired future culture.  

WHAT WAS THE JOURNEY IN DEVELOPING THE EVP AT BDO? 

We had a very clear client proposition based on exceptional client service. This was borne out by independent research that showed in 2015, for the fourth year running, we had the highest overall satisfaction scores of all the major firms.

What was less clear was the equivalent ‘people proposition’ – why people joined, why people stayed and what made us different? This became more acute as the competitive environment for talent became more intense; where our recent merger with PKF brought into sharp focus the concern of ‘good people’ leaving and where engaging our existing people was crucial in ensuring sustainable success.

In practice we’d started the process to define our people proposition before the merger, but this provided the catalyst for a more concerted approach. We recognised a number of things that were fundamental to the success of defining and delivering our EVP:

1.    It should have the right degree of ‘aspiration’. Simply describing the current state would provide no incentive for positive change; blue-sky aspiration on the other hand would not be see as credible (senior management out of touch with reality) which would see any work swiftly dispatch to the ‘just another initiative’ box.
2.    It had to be an inclusive process with real dialogue and debate both internally and with external stakeholders e.g. recruitment agencies. In the end approximately 15% of the firm (c500 people) were involved in this phase which was conducted immediately after completion of the merger.
3.    While ‘the words’ were important (and we spent plenty of time on this) they were there to summarise the essence of the proposition which, depending on the circumstances, needed to be applied flexibly (and not something cast in stone).

The initial research phase, including the identification of the key ‘touch-points’ that were most important to our people (and potential people) took around six months.  We ended up discussing with the Leadership Team a simple one-page definition together with an ‘expectations’ paper where we explicitly described what BDO expected of its people and what they could expect in return. This proved crucial during the subsequent development and implementation phase.

HOW DO YOU RECOMMEND A COMPANY GO ABOUT DIFFERENTIATING THEMSELVES FROM THEIR COMPETITION TO STAND OUT IN THE "SEA OF SAMENESS"? 

For us, we all kind of knew what made us different but had difficulty articulating it in a consistent, compelling and coherent way. The people proposition process, if nothing else, was a rigorous and robust way to validate these gut feelings. For us it came down to ‘Be Yourself’ – a competitive differentiator and something that was deeply embedded in the culture of the firm.  We were not trying to become something that we were not. 

One other (obvious) factor to consider is to measure the perceptions of the audiences we are trying to reach with this work. It’s very easy to become so close to the process that one thinks one is making significant decisions that will deliver radical shifts in these perceptions when of course the reality is much more subtle. Change takes time, it is a product not just of a proposition or its communication, but of experience. 

HOW CAN YOU ENSURE YOUR EVP IS CLOSELY TIED TO REALITY? THAT THE PACKAGING DOES TRULY REFLECT WHAT'S ACTUALLY HAPPENING INSIDE THE BUSINESS? 

It’s always a challenge, not least when you seek to use the EVP to effect internal change while being true to the culture and values of the company.

If the promise and the delivery are out of kilter, the investment counts for little or nothing. That’s why it’s important within the organisation to adopt some key principles in EVP adoption:

1.    Ensure a truly collaborative and cross-functional approach to development and implementation. It’s not something that can be simply given to HR (or Communications, or some other department). 

2.    Make sure visible policies, processes and systems are aligned (or are on their way to being aligned) to the proposition. This may encompass areas such as career development, performance management, reward and recognition, working environment, accountability and responsibility etc. Ensure, for example, interviewing managers are equipped with the right tools to articulate the proposition in the right way – as a potential candidate it should be a consistent message whatever the role, wherever the location.

3.    Work closely with your external stakeholders – recruitment agencies for example, will have a clear view on the validity and credibility of the offer when compared with competitors. Ensure they are part of a comprehensive briefing programme.
 
4.    Place close attention to any ‘launch’. For some companies it will be entirely appropriate to introduce the EVP over many months, not least if significant change to the policies, processes and systems mentioned above are required. At BDO we were more overt in looking at how could it best be combined with other relevant change activity and how it could resonate with people on a ‘day-to-day basis? For us, the merger provided a suitable peg on which to hang a combined programme that included future business ambition, strategy to get us there, a refreshed set of values and a clearer articulation of the ‘why join, why stay and what makes is different’ questions mentioned earlier.

5.    Use a particular audience to test the approach. At BDO, we were at the point where we needed to revamp our approach to graduate recruitment and this provided a good test of the new proposition. Impacting as it did on recruitment fairs, literature, ‘tone of voice’, website, social media, it demonstrated why an integrated approach covering all ‘touch-points’ was so important.