Now more than ever we expect brands to make hard choices that are consistent with their core values and reflect who they are as a business.
But we also want more. We want to know that the brands that we rely on, work with, and work for understand our humanity. In a moment of crisis, brands make the world better by delivering consistent treatment across all stakeholders – including employees. May Day, a traditional holiday in Europe dedicated to celebrating the return of spring, lit up social accounts across the United States as brands that have been beacons of hope were celebrated for taking care of their employees.
The employee value proposition, or EVP, represents this give and take. It’s what’s expected from an employee and what will be given in return from the employer. It’s a powerful recruitment and employee engagement tool.
But it can also be more than that.
EVPs are a brand’s cultural beacon and as such, the best EVPs are honest. They are consistent. They are authentic. They pass the bullshit test. They are quirky. They are the extension of their people and reflect them fully. An EVP says, “I know my people” and like a magnet, draws them in.
When uncertainty threatens to splinter people off, EVPs call them back home.
It is the single commitment that ensures that your people will continue to deliver on your brand’s promise even through their own personal hardships.
Why is the EVP so powerful for brands during times like these? Customers evaluate brands in moments of crisis more holistically, not just in terms of product and service delivery but also company behavior.
Here’s how EVPs help build stronger brands that can weather crises like the one we’re dealing with now:
- They empower brands to demonstrate how they are built from the inside out: EVPs are an empathetic gesture to employees that bring out reciprocal responses. Employees are helped and so they want to help. This is noticed by customers particularly in times of crisis.
Shortly after the NBA announced it was suspending the season in March, Dallas Maverick’s owner Mark Cuban announced that he was implementing a payment plan for his stadium’s hourly workers – a move that has been imitated throughout the sports world. But he didn’t stop there. As the effects of the shutdown continue to challenge the economic viability of local businesses, Cuban encouraged acts of reciprocity through his employees: he recently implemented a program where employees are reimbursed for breakfast and lunch purchased at local restaurants and coffee shops.
- They allow brands to bring their purpose to life and promote a sense of community inclusive of their customers: Brand purpose without a strong EVP behind it lacks integrity and believability. Employees are the lynchpin to delivering on purpose, and without clear and consistent promises to them, they cannot deliver. EVPs also show that a company cares and that they belong in their communities – they provide clarity about how the relationship will play out and the rules of engagement.
Microsoft is a brand that has demonstrated through their words and their actions that responding to COVID-19 requires a collective effort. In addition to providing flexible working arrangements for employees during stay-in-place orders, Microsoft has expanded its notion of “community” by continuing to pay their hourly campus employees, providing remote learning support for educators and redirecting their AI for Health initiative towards first responders backed with an additional $20 million in funding.
- They can rally all ranks of employees and business leaders around a shared vision: There’s little debate that COVID-19 may irrevocably change our lives. At this moment, organizations need transformational leaders to activate followers’ values and social identities. EVPs address existential questions about how we will survive this, and they suggest that we will survive it by working together to fulfill our vision. They make people feel safe and useful.
In his address to Marriott employees, CEO Arne Sorensen was at the same time resolute, vulnerable, and hopeful. He conveyed his personal pain acknowledging that employees’ roles may be impacted by circumstances outside of their control. This demonstration of transformational leadership highlights the need for executives to confront difficult realities in a way that is truly other-oriented. Sorensen’s address acknowledges the uncertainty of the moment while communicating a vision to provide a sense of calm leadership his people need.
EVPs in these times that are done well demonstrate to all stakeholders that the brand can survive this crisis because it puts its people first and proves that they will be treated with dignity and respect. It fulfills fundamental human needs for safety, belonging, and reducing uncertainty. In its absence, it also demonstrates how companies will soon need to re-enliven the conversation about how EVPs can define internal culture to deliver their brand’s promise to all stakeholders.