In a previous post, we talked about how hard it can be for companies to define the most persuasive aspects of an Employee Value Proposition (EVP)—the strategic statement that defines why talented people want to work for the company—and outlined a five-step process for moving from discovery to launch.

This time, we’ll cover discovery methods that will get to the rich, qualitative, story-driven factors that will ultimately help you respond to the War for Talent challenge of defining “why a talented person would want to work for your company.”

Let’s remember what we’re searching for

We’re searching for those aspects of an EVP that are likely to be most compelling. Most of them live in our limbic brain… what’s that? It’s where we keep all those rich emotional concepts that don’t translate easily into words.

You can ask employees why they like working for your company, but you shouldn’t expect a simple answer. The most compelling reasons are hard to verbalize. They’ll emerge as stories, feelings, or metaphors.

We often hear from companies who survey staff, as if the compelling reasons WHY will stand out like leading indicators for sales projections. Most often, they end up with a quantitative read on a few very commonplace points of consideration… and no real emotional differentiation to build an EVP or a brand upon.

To get the most valuable information you need to formulate questions differently and then be prepared, usually with a reliable expert partner, to process the responses.

Qualitative discovery is about stories, not numbers
We like one-on-one interviews. Don’t they take more time? YES… but they allow you to see the differentiating qualities of your environment that add value to an employee’s career. And that differentiation is something you can build a brand around!

You’ll need to listen to stories and feelings. Unlike more evidence-based research, this discovery process is less dependent on sample size and more dependent on the openness of your questions.

Consider an organic model
Think of your EVP discovery process as the exploration of a gnarly old tree. The points of value… the fruit… may be hidden along different limbs. They may be near the trunk, or way out at the end of the smaller branches.

Your high-performing, high-potential employees (HiPer/HiPos) know the tree best… they’re the most skilled climbers. Sitting down with HiPer/HiPos can be an extremely enlightening experience, provided you ask the right kinds of questions and are prepared for the right kinds of follow-ups.

Your line of questioning, whether an interview guide or a survey questionnaire, should explore the tree methodically.

Get the complete detail on the BNO’s Organic Framework for EVP Discovery, and begin identifying your company’s specific points of value.

There are foundational aspects of value that go deep into your company’s grounding… its roots. There you’ll dig for aspects of the company heritage, the core values, and your statements of purpose (such as vision or mission).

For each aspect you uncover, you’ll need to determine where it sits on the axis that divides rational from emotional perspectives. Remember, the most powerful value points represent emotional perspectives that are very difficult to verbalize. Participants will use sensory words in open responses, referring to feelings or visions as opposed to facts or numbers.

The important point here is that facts and numbers will need to be translated to sensory results before you’ll have a factor for your EVP. For example, your company structure may offer more opportunity for career advancement, but if we don’t connect that with the opportunity for professional growth or personal impact, we won’t be emotionally persuasive.

Those stories, feelings, and metaphors that employees use signal a deeper story to be told. They should trigger open-ended follow-up questions that invite explanation… “Tell me more about that.” These explanations will provide the core evidence for your team to compare as you search for repetitive patterns among the information you gather.

What comes next?
An organic discovery process, in collaboration with a trusted strategic and creative partner, will provide a clear sense of how your best employees find value in your work environment. The next challenge is boiling those elusive concepts into meaningful words that remind people of the value your company offers to talented people.

Be open-minded and engage the right partner.

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