Keeping Promises: How to Shape Your Employer Brand in the New Normal

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Your organization has an employer value proposition (EVP) whether or not you are actively working to shape it.

According to Gartner, organizations that deliver on their EVPs can cut annual turnover by almost 70 percent and boost new hire loyalty by almost 30 percent. With the events of 2020 having redefined all aspects of work, how you position your employer brand has never been more critical than it is today.

Every brand’s perceived EVP is almost certainly evolving in the eyes of current and prospective employees, right alongside the shifting priorities and needs of those employees. To build an employer brand that speaks to top talent in these difficult times and beyond, follow these tips:

If You Have a Formal EVP, It’s Time to Take a Second Look

COVID-19 has dramatically changed what employers look for from employees and what employees expect in return. If you have a formal EVP, it’s time to take a fresh look. Does it speak to what matters most right now?

Determine if your EVP still rings true. Does it need to be adjusted to reflect the current climate and your employees’ experiences with the company? It is essential to look at your EVP through a diversity, equity, and inclusion lens, too. Can you say that you deliver on your promises to everyone equally?

As you’re re-evaluating your EVP, remember that, though the two concepts are related, there is an important difference between the EVP and your employer brand. Your EVP is the why of the organization, and your employer brand is the what and the how. Your EVP should also not be confused with your company’s purpose, mission, vision, or values, but it should be closely aligned with these things.

If You Don’t Have a Formal EVP, Now Is the Time to Craft One

The relationship between employers and employees is a symbiotic one. Employers need to know what they can expect from employees, and employees, in turn, need to know what their employers will provide in exchange.

The EVP captures that mutual promise and value exchange in clear, genuine terms. How each side delivers on its promise gets evaluated moment to moment, day to day. That means your company needs to stay vigilant on whether it is fulfilling its promises.

According to Paul Shore, chief people officer for Pilot Company, his organization’s soon-to-be-released EVP is an extension of the company’s values and unrelenting commitment to its key audiences. As Shore says,

“Our care and commitment to our team members comes from a deep-rooted history that started 62 years ago when Jim Haslam opened the first Pilot location. … As we evolve, we always stay true to our core value of putting people first. Through these difficult times, we’ve focused on what is essential. As we set out on a journey to create an EVP, it naturally came to life as our team rallied together to serve our guests and keep North America moving.”

Ask yourself: What do employees or prospects need from you in order to choose to work for your organization for the long term?

In normal times, most organizations might begin identifying what matters most to employees by commissioning a survey. While surveys are still valuable now, the best insights come from one-on-one or small-group conversations in a safe environment. In these environments, you can ask employees what’s most important to them and how the company is (or isn’t) delivering on that. Then, ask individuals if they want to be part of the change. Be sure to seek feedback from people in different jobs, of different tenures, and from different demographics.

When it comes to persuading candidates that your organization is an outstanding place to work, this process should start long before the interview. Look for opportunities, online and offline, to connect with and build relationships with recruits. Empower employees to do the same through a formal employee referral and advocacy program.

Emphasize Safety and Well-Being

Right now — and likely for months and months to come — employees are most concerned about working in a safe environment. While physical safety is foremost in their minds, current and prospective employees also experience stress on the job and off in normal times. Today, those feelings are heightened by uncertainty and the burdens of caring for family members and juggling additional responsibilities.

Employees and prospects want to know that your organization is committed to their whole well-being. According to Paula Allen, senior vice president of research, analytics, and innovation at Morneau Shepell, a focus on holistic well-being has become an expectation rather than a perk for many employees.

“Organizations need to broaden their attitudes towards workplace well-being, taking a holistic approach that considers all aspects of the individual’s health — mental, physical, social, and even financial,” Allen says. “It’s important to invest in the appropriate support and work with employees at all stages of the continuum of care — and to never get too comfortable. The best programs are those that are reviewed often and incorporate feedback from employees.”

Make Room for the Genuinely Human

Lives and livelihoods are at stake. In such an environment, employees are looking for you to convey your value proposition in simple human language that speaks directly to their needs. Remember that you don’t have to deliver in all ways and all places on that promise at all times, as long as you have a serious plan in place to get there. In the meantime, employees will appreciate your honesty about things that are works in progress.

It’s also important to empower your managers. They are the front lines of communication with employees and are no doubt feeling the burden. Keep them well informed, provide messaging and training, and offer plenty of resources to support their mental and emotional health.

Communicate as If Your Life Depends on It

If you are unveiling a new EVP, you should create a phased multichannel approach to introduce it and sustain it over time. The rollout plan should ideally be based on employee personas and journeys. Segmenting employees into cohorts can spark positive interaction and close communication gaps. Understanding the composition of your organization can also be beneficial for recruiting purposes.

Once you’ve introduced your new or updated EVP, you’ll want to reinforce your promises to employees and your expectations of them in return. Ensure this language is embedded in employee and recruitment communications and assets.

To reinforce positive employee behaviors — their side of the EVP promise — consider a simple employee recognition program. Perhaps unlike others you’ve had or seen, this one should recognize individuals or groups who embody the company’s employer brand. You can prepare the first handful of recognition stories, but after that, make the program employee-generated. Invite employees to call out other individuals and groups, and reward both the nominee and the nominator.

Keep Asking: Are We Delivering on Our Promises? Are Employees Delivering on Theirs?

You’ve made a promise to your current and future employees. Now, you need systems in place to monitor how the company is performing in keeping it. Likewise, it’s important to monitor how employees are holding up their end of the bargain.

Frequent listening is essential — not only to understand where employees are, but also to meet their basic human need to be heard. If employees are engaged in advancing the company’s business, promote and celebrate the esprit de corps and team effort to get the job done. If employees aren’t engaged, identify what is standing in the way. If employees continually encounter barriers, you can’t expect them to fulfill their responsibilities until you’ve broken those barriers down.

Finally, continue to lead by example. Do what you say you are going to do. People remember actions far more than words, and leaders and managers can best promote commitment to the EVP through the actions they take each and every day.

Ann Barlow ( ) is a senior partner and president of Peppercomm ‘s West Coast. Courtney Ellul ( ) is a senior vice president and partner in London.

By Ann Barlow and Courtney Ellul