“How do you want to be perceived as an employer?”
This is the fundamental question we ask when we start our client journeys to create or refine their organizational employee value proposition (EVP) pillars and employer brand strategy. This question is often countered with: “Should our EVP not authentically reflect who we are today vs who we’ll be in the future?”
My colleagues, lovingly referred to as Bluubs, and I call this the Aspirational Gap. It is the gap between current and aspirational cultures. For some, putting out aspirational culture statements is a declarative statement – a public line in the sand – that informs the world who you are going to be with total certitude, and little deference to today’s reality. For others, it is a little more like a tightrope walk where you sway between who you are today and what you hope to be tomorrow.
Wherever you may be in your culture journey, here is one thing that we know through decades of doing this stuff: Not only is it okay to have an Aspirational Gap in your EVP and employer brand messaging, but it is also an ideal way to inspire talent with a vision of what the near future will offer them personally. Furthermore, this aspirational element of the EVP provides a foundation for near term people experience and program investments. But of course, there are caveats to consider.
Balancing Act: Reality Does Matter
Remember, EVPs should attract, inspire, and connect candidates to your organization while simultaneously engaging employees to remember why they joined, stay, and give so much of themselves to make you successful. To do this, EVPs must be authentically grounded in the everyday experiences of your talent. The EVP Discovery needs to reveal what your talent most value. A wide spectrum of employment attributes are explored such as innovation and impact, flexibility, learning and development; diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging; commitment to wellbeing; compensation and total rewards; health care benefits and, yes, aspirational-leaning career advancement opportunities.
Every workday our talent worldwide balances their daily workplace challenges with the anticipation of the wonderful experiences and opportunities that lie ahead. And they are thrilled to go along for the ride. That is, if they trust and believe in what you are telling them.
The caveat of an aspirational-leaning culture is that for your people to trust and believe your vision, they must experience and be a part of the changing culture. Closing the gap between current and aspirational cultures requires a far greater effort beyond just talk.
Where the Aspirational Vision Comes From
Most companies have defined purpose, mission, vision, and values statements, and ideally their leaders speak frequently to that culture story. Leaders do this to align talent with the north star and ways of working. Similarly, there is often a difference between what employers want to provide and the current employee experience. When executives are asked how they would like to be recognized as an employer, the answers can help to clarify both an organization’s ideal cultural vision, and the gaps between aspirational and present cultures.
When answering the question, business leaders will tend to use common aspirational culture descriptors. These descriptors speak to how they want their employees to interact toward working goals (collaborative, purpose, mission), but the words used will describe how they want to treat their employees (caring, diverse, equitable, inclusive, authentic, empathetic, fun). It is not surprising that business leaders lean to a future state more than the current realities it is in their DNA to be visionary and people-first focused.
Here are steps that organizations can utilize to get started on their way towards realizing the employer branded culture they aspire to achieve:
Keep It Simple by Focusing on the End
Transitioning to an aspirational culture attribute should be easily understood by everyone in the organization. Reframe complex reasons for the change to easily understood missions and imperatives. For example: you may be transitioning to become a company that is driven by innovation. While the specifics of the innovation-focused action plans may be too complex (and too proprietary) to communicate enterprise-wide, connect people across the company to the mission elements of innovation and to the importance of everyone’s support in the initiative.
Engage in the Root Cause Solutions
Aspirational EVPs should identify the attributes and experience you aim to deliver with consistency. At the same time there should be an acknowledgement of shortfalls in the organization. As you work to fix these shortfalls – thus affecting your culture – leverage the goals, objectives, and performance measures of these initiatives as critical stories to share with your workforce. Engage leaders, organizational development, communications, and ambassadors in planning and activating the programs that will make the aspirational, a reality.
Understand and Align to the Everyday Experience
As noted, EVPs are rooted in the everyday experiences of your workers. As your culture is changing, it is important to keep up with how people are feeling during the intentional transition. This understanding will show you ‘opportunity moments,’ moments in which you can intervene with targeted reassurances of the mission and purpose for the change. Employ regular pulse surveys or other sentiment measurement tools to help you to determine when and where to communicate.
Communicate Intentions Genuinely and With Transparency
Change announcements can be difficult and even fearsome to employees. Clearly and genuinely communicate what the organization’s intentions are and allow employees to share any impressions or concerns they may have regarding the transition. If possible, in-person communication is always best. Technology may improve efficiencies, but it will never generate trust or initiate employee engagement in the same way a good old-fashioned face-to-face conversation will.
Use Professional Culture Change Practices and Expertise
Strong leaders are accustomed to change. So, it is natural that some leaders assume that there is an organic component to employer branded culture change. Successfully closing the gap between current and aspirational cultures requires the deployment of culture change practices and expertise. This includes defining specific roles (sponsors, agents, advocates, and targets), setting intentional action plans, and meeting established and agree-upon performance goals.
Changing culture is hard. In fact, it may be the hardest part of building a best-in-class employer brand culture. Capturing the minds, and hearts, of your workforce through clear, direct, honest, and empathic communication will ensure your successful transformation. It will also make your people proud to be associated with your company.
This blog was authored by:
N. Robert Johnson, Director Employer Brand and Culture Blog
Blu Ivy Group is a global leader in employer branding, organizational culture, and recruitment marketing. We help organizations across the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors build extraordinary employee experiences, magnetic employer brands and high-performance cultures.
From C-Suite to Employer Brand and Talent Acquisition leadership, we partner with our clients to transform their organizations and design the most compelling workplaces of the future.
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