How to pressure test your organisational values against workplace needs

11 January 2023

“We’re flexible, inclusive and committed to learning”. You’ve probably heard this kind of claim made by organisations – maybe you even work for one that says they’re “innovative and fun”. But when it comes to the crunch, do they live up to these benefits and values? Or are they just pretty posters decorating the kitchen walls?

It can be uncomfortable to hear that your organisation’s values (also known as your Employee Value Proposition) don’t align with the way your people experience the workplace. But failing to test them against reality can have serious knock-on effects – both for your team and your workplace.

What is an Employee Value Proposition?

An Employee Value Proposition (EVP) is a promise a company makes to its employees, defining what you will give people in return for showing up and doing their job well. It covers things like remuneration and benefits, learning and development, and workplace wellness, as well as more intangible things like workplace culture and opportunities to do meaningful work.

Most organisations will develop their EVP around a boardroom table, asking their leaders to make assumptions about what people want from the workplace. Few will base their EVP on data like surveys and interviews, and even fewer will regularly test their EVP to make sure it’s relevant, meaningful and up-to-date.

And this could be costing you.

The risks of not regularly testing your EVP

It’s definitely easier and less confronting to stick with the EVP you developed a while back. But without regularly reviewing your EVP, you’re risking:

  • More resignations: even if you have the best perks in the world, if they’re not what your people want, they’ll look elsewhere.
  • Missing easy fixes: a lot of issues raised in stay surveys and exit interviews are straightforward and easy to fix. Ignoring these things can mean issues become bigger than they need to be and can spiral out of control.
  • Damage to brand reputation: people who leave companies can be vocal about their reasons for leaving. In today’s digital world, word can spread quickly about the “flexible” companies that are far from accommodating in reality.

One example of the cost of this misalignment is Tesla, as highlighted in this excellent Harvard Business Review article . “While Tesla offers employees work rooted in a phenomenal higher purpose, the draw of Elon Musk’s personal brand, and obvious opportunities to accelerate their careers, it misses the opportunity to position these in a give-and-get context. Its employer brand suffers from a largely negative reputation among Tesla alumni, a well-documented poor work/life balance, and a disregard for what it takes to build and protect a strong culture,” it points out.

It’s also important to remember that your people’s needs change over time. People will leave and be replaced by new people with new needs and priorities. So, your EVP needs to reflect what your current people want and value, not what you thought employees who’ve long since left needed back when you created it.

How to test your EVP with your people

One of the easiest ways to test your EVP is by simply asking your people. Include a section on values in your next employee survey or in your interviews with departing employees.

It can be as simple as: Do you know what the organisations values are?

And for each of the values, ask:

  • Do you personally connect with this value?
  • To what extent do you feel that the organisation lives by this value on a daily basis?

You can get even more granular. For example, if flexibility is part of your EVP, you could include questions such as:

  • How would you rate the organisation’s work flexibility? 1–5 rating
  • Do you see opportunities for greater flexibility in your role? (yes/no)
  • (If they answer yes to the above) ‘We would love to hear your suggestions’.

This data will help you understand what flexibility truly means for your people, and whether your flexible work practices are meeting your people’s needs. Make sure you ask for specific reasons and tangible examples as well. Provide an open text field for people to give details when they feel the value doesn’t meet expectations.

Taking Action

If you find your stay surveys and exit interviews are showing low scores in a few of your values, it’s worth digging deeper. Don’t be tempted to view the results with rose-tinted glasses or skew the numbers to show a more positive result. In the end, what matters most is keeping your top talent – and to do that your EVP has to truly reflect what your people value.

Consider running small group sessions or 1:1 chats with individuals to dig into the specifics of where they’re experiencing the misalignment. If you work in a smaller organisation that is open to collaboration, you could get everyone together to discuss issues.

Be open to their suggestions for improvement. Although leaders tend to think they have the right ideas for improvements, the most creative and innovative solutions often come from employees themselves. And by including them in the solution, they’re more likely to get on board with future improvements.

As well as speaking to individuals who provided feedback, make sure you communicate the results and improvements to the whole organisation, so you can close the feedback loop and let them know that changes are coming.

When it comes to engaging and retaining talent, the solutions seem limitless. We believe there are seven key factors that make a difference to the workplace experience and influence people’s decision to stay or go. Discover what they are in our free guide, The 7 Pillars of Retention.

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