Continuing my series of articles relating to Strategic Workforce Planning (SWP) application and practice, I want to discuss in this article the inseparable relationship between SWP and Employer Value Proposition (EVP), and provide some challenges relating to how we think about talent. We’ll look at both the rise in importance of a more deliberate and focused approach to EVP and then the way in which SWP plays a fundamental role in enabling this.
To set the scene, we need to take a step back and recognise a key fact – talent, inside and outside are organisations, are effectively consumers, and behave like any other consumers. They are consumers of careers, of self-actualisation, of purpose – the things which they feel they gain as individuals through work. I believe that we have come to this realisation late, and that many of our people processes and approaches are in reality based upon assumptions which could be considered outmoded versus this categorisation.
Back in 2014, I conducted some research on talent management as part of my role with the HR Centre at Henley Business School. As a result of what emerged, in 2015, I followed this up with some more focused research around EVP. The result was the coining of the term career consumer to describe a new way of interacting with the talent we need which was more akin to a proposition marketing approach than a traditional ‘built it and they will come’ model of talent attraction and retention. When we examined the various talent trends, they converged to a central realisation that talent is increasingly demonstrating consumerist behaviours.
Talent is behaving increasingly like the consumers who buy or use our products and services
- Loyalty – the erosion of psychological and career-centred barriers to moving employer; driven by a rise in portfolio career thinking, CV engineering and skills shortages.
- Brand – a growing awareness both of personal brand, but also of the ‘CV equity brand’ of employers
- The best deal – using consumer power to negotiate increasingly employee-centred and tailored employment/work relationships and packages
- Servant to master – a recognition that, as suppliers of particular skills in demand, talent is often in the driving seat rather than at the whim of organisational desire
- Product thinking – a mind-set of ‘what is it that you can offer me?’ as opposed to an acceptance of generic employment opportunities
Put these together and they challenge a lot of our talent thinking, making it look reactive and generic. The questions I always ask are these: if these people were buying what our organisation actual produces in terms of products and services, how would we engage with them? And is this what we do? The answer of course is that we would almost certainly follow the classic marketing approach of understanding needs, segmentation, developing aligned propositions and products and approaches that support them… and no, all too often this isn’t what we do at all in the world of talent!
We need to engage with talent in a much more segmented and targeted way – like we do with any consumers
So, what has this got to do with SWP?
The answer is simple: Without SWP, we cannot properly start the process of segmentation. We cannot identify the audience of most critical importance to strategy. Without this segmentation, we cannot understand how and where we need to develop new, or modify existing, propositions which speak to their needs. Without being able to develop propositions which target and differentiate, we cannot sensibly compete in attracting or retaining that talent.
There is a check and balance to apply here. The reality is that SWP and these more targeted EVP efforts will identify and address a specific sub-set of talent – those with strategically vital skills. Clearly then, any targeted EVP activity needs to sit within a broader view of what an organisation stands for, to support cultural congruence and to avoid accusations of hypocrisy and corporate schizophrenia. The ‘islands’ of more tailored and more sharply defined proposition share parental DNA with the wider organisation, but also have their own personality.
This may manifest itself in the volume of one dimension being turned up, or another down, in order to reflect the drivers for a particular talent segment. In some cases, an organisation may decide to add something into the mix which is not echoed elsewhere, for example a particular approach to fixed versus variable pay. The way in which the proposition is taken to market may also differ. The positioning, tone or channel may be specific to the audience in order to resonate in a way that it would not if simply part of a one-size-fits-all EVP.
Therefore, SWP plays a pivotal role in helping us to begin this Targeted EVP (TEVP) process, but it also helps us to develop the talent strategies and sub-propositions which support both these TEVPs and the broader EVP. The SWP approach doesn’t just identify the critical gaps in capability, but also guides us in developing organisational strategies to address them. Once we have identified what our TEVP demands, we can look across our organisational levers of structure, work design, process, reward, skill, culture and leadership to develop a recipe to deliver this proposition. From this flow modifications to people processes, recruitment channels and partners, internal development approaches, reward structure etc which together give us the best chance of developing a winning proposition.
So, to my mind, SWP and EVP are inseparable. We need to get smarter and more proactive around EVP, which means that we need to be using SWP approaches. If we are using SWP, then EVP is the vehicle for how we attract and retain what we need.
If you are not looking at EVP in a more differentiated way, then my provocation is that you should. If you are not using SWP to inform your EVP efforts, then my provocation is that you must. If you are not thinking of talent as consumers, then my provocation is that you need to.