Employee Value Propositions: A Foundation in Building a Competitive Work Force

by Penni McLean-Conner, Eversource Energy

America’s work force is aging, and baby boomers are hitting retirement age in large numbers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, every day about 10,000 people in the U.S. turn 65. The trend is expected to continue until 2030.

Utilities are not immune to this trend. The Center for Energy Workforce Development researched this issue in 2011.

Findings included that nearly 62 percent of utility employees have the potential to retire or leave within the next decade, with a whopping 9 percent ready to retire now.

At Eversource Energy, we are seeing the same phenomenon. Some one-third of our employee base is 55 years old or older, and most of these employees are eligible to retire within five years.

The challenge at the center of this trend: How does a utility maintain and build a competitive work force?

Forward-thinking utilities are putting plans in place to ensure they build and maintain a competitive work force, giving these utilities the competitive edge.

As utilities position themselves in this new energy economy, they must look at ways to gain a competitive advantage while ensuring the best response to customers’ needs. This means optimizing the work force by attracting, retaining and engaging diverse, highly capable talent to meet current and future business requirements.

Establishing an employee value proposition is critical to securing a competitive work force. Towers Watson is a widely heralded expert in human resource management. The company defines an employee value proposition (EVP) as “the collective array of programs that an organization offers in exchange for employment.”

Put more simply, the employee value proposition is “the deal” between employers and employees. It defines what employees “get” and what employees are expected to “give” in return.

The employer brand is considered the promise the employer makes to the employee and answers the question, “Why do I want to work here?” It represents the connection the employee has to the employer. Similar to the external-facing customer promise that is evoked in a company brand, the employer brand is the internal complement to the external brand promise. The employee value proposition and the employer brand capture the essence of what a company wants to stand for in both the eyes of the current employees and in how it represents itself to prospective employees.

Forward-thinking utilities already are discussing the critical work force needs of today and in the future. Utility leaders across the country are talking about how they are positioning their utilities to attract and retain top talent and about how they are engaging current employees around consistently delivering on the companies’ brand promise. Employee value propositions and the employer brand are a core element of this discussion.

Employee Value Proposition Overview

While the most basic element, the employee value proposition is an articulation of the deal between employer and employee to be integrated effectively into the company’s purpose, total rewards strategy and culture.

The employee value proposition allows a company to differentiate itself in the marketplace from competitors. This differentiation is critical as companies recruit for top talent to fill critical positions. Employee value propositions ensure message alignment to existing and future employees. Leaders can leverage the EVP to enhance overall employee engagement. Successful EVPs are more than just catchy tag lines.

The EVP is integrated into the company’s purpose. The robust employee value proposition helps employees and prospective employees see and understand what a company is all about. What does the company stand for? How do customers, investors and stakeholders view the company? What is the mission of the company?

The EVP is integrated into the total rewards strategy. In addition to conveying the purpose and value of the company, an EVP also describes what success looks like. How does the company support the employee and his or her family through benefits, programs, learning and career opportunities?

The EVP is integrated into the company’s culture. Finally, the EVP also describes the company’s culture to employees and prospective employees. It describes the types of work, the environment and the people, tools and processes.

An EVP that is tightly integrated into a utility’s purpose and values, total rewards strategy and culture is a competitive advantage. As utilities deal with increasing retirements and the need to recruit new top talent, they must differentiate themselves from other employers. A robust, tightly integrated EVP is foundational.

Eversource Energy Senior Vice President of Human Resources Chris Carmody shared her insights in developing and communicating an EVP. When Eversource, previously Northeast Utilities, first merged with NSTAR of Massachusetts, it operated under individual brands such as Connecticut Light and Power, Carmody said. In total, the merged company of more than 8,000 employees was marketing six external brands in three states. In alignment with Eversource’s mission of being one company focused on delivering reliable energy and superior customer service, the company was re-branded to the single name Eversource.

“Developing an internal employee promise to complement the external employer brand promise was considered fundamental to building a one-company culture,” Carmody said. “Our goal has been to build an engaged workplace where employees deliver on our mission and fulfill that promise to customers consistently across our region. The EVP helps align employees behind a common purpose and accelerate the transition to a new business strategy for the combined company. It also better positions Eversource to attract, hire and retain top talent because we can differentiate ourselves from talent competitors in the market, articulate a consistent set of messages and portray a clear picture of what it’s really like to be part of the Eversource team. All of this is critical to winning the war on talent in a very competitive industry.”

Steps to Establish an EVP

There are three steps involved in establishing an EVP. The first is to define the EVP. The second is to communicate. And the third is to refine the EVP to ensure sustainability and relevancy.

In defining the EVP, it is important to establish a strong, cross-functional project team. Companies might want to consider augmenting this effort with outside expertise. Several firms with expertise in developing EVPs can help accelerate the overall effort.

To define an EVP, it is important to complete research so the EVP is meaningful to employees and sustainable for the organization. The research will be inclusive of internal data review and analysis, leadership interviews and employee focus groups.

From an internal data perspective, important elements are gathering data on employee demographics, completing segmentation analysis and understanding results from instruments such as an employee engagement survey. This research must be inclusive of understanding future work force needs. The research should answer questions such as: Who makes up the target market of needed talent, and what are the needs and motivations of candidates in this market?

The team will want to interview various employee groups from executives to front-line employees to learn what matters in their employment experience and their views regarding the company’s mission.

The EVP will be captured and explained in a series of statements that clearly define what an employee “gets” by working at a company in terms of the environment, the people, the work, the opportunity and the rewards, as well as by what the employee gives in return. Much of the “give” focuses on the delivery of the brand promise, living up to the company’s values and how the work is expected to be carried out.

Once an EVP is developed, communicating becomes the next challenge. Consider that an EVP is summarized by an employee promise or employer brand, so to be successful is tightly aligned with the external customer promise or brand. Companies often build external brand campaigns that help communicate and reinforce the EVP.

But at the core, successful communication involves incorporating the EVP in all aspects of organizational communication. The EVP and resulting employer promise need to be incorporated into recruitment tools and materials, but more than that, they need to be built into regular, ongoing employee communications. Most important, leadership must understand the EVP and communicate it in all opportunities. The communication and reinforcement of the EVP over time in multiple channels is the key.

Finally, the EVP must be sustained. The EVP must continue to be reviewed and refined to address changes in the marketplace and with employees. The value proposition must support an organization during periods of growth and economic challenge.

Companies successful at ensuring their EVPs or employer brands are relevant continually evaluate the total rewards package to ensure it is competitive. Companies are checking with employees to see if the EVP is being realized. Companies also are ensuring that the EVP is tightly aligned with external-facing corporate brand messaging.

Utilities are facing a work force planning challenge as more experienced baby boomers hit retirement age. Utilities will continue to need to recruit qualified workers in science, technology, engineering and math careers along with trade and craft positions. Utilities face another problem: making the utility industry appeal to the next generation of employees. To succeed, utilities must sell the benefits of working at their companies.

“Having a clear EVP is an increasingly critical tool in the war for talent, particularly as the market for that talent becomes more global,” said Yves Blain, an expert on the subject from Towers Watson.

An EVP is an excellent foundation.

Findings included that nearly 62 percent of utility employees have the potential to retire or leave within the next decade, with a whopping 9 percent ready to retire now.

Author

Penni McLean-Conner is the chief customer officer at Eversource Energy, the largest energy delivery company in New England. A registered professional engineer, McLean-Conner is active it the utility industry and serves on several boards of directors including CS Week and the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy. Her Latest book, “Energy Efficiency: Principles and Practices,” is available at www.pennwellbooks.com. Reach her at penelope.conner@eversource.com.

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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com.

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