Ordinarily, it’s HR who designs the initiatives that entice the top talent and retain them. But increasingly CEOs are helping to create or reshape a compelling employee value proposition (EVP).
This is being driven by new challenges in the labour market, which require companies to meet new workforce demands.
Speaking at the Unleash conference in Paris, the deputy CEO of L’Oréal, Barbara Lavernos, described EVP as a “core part” of her business’s strategy. “It begins with a sense of purpose that unites all our colleagues, all our employees, whatever that function,” she says.
At L’Oréal, it is tied to its commitment to diversity, innovation and inspiration. “We want to be a company where diversity is not tolerated, it’s celebrated,” Lavernos adds. “We also want to be the most innovative company in regards to developing new ways of working and we want to inspire others and to spread the passion we have for beauty.”
Lavernos regards HR as a key ally in achieving these ambitions. “HR will be the ultimate accompaniment to the CEO,” she says. “Technology can be copied, processes can be mimicked but the people and the culture of an organisation are unique. A company is its people.”
Redesigning the EVP to attract talent
Eric Olsen, CEO of Aliaxis, an industrial infrastructure company headquartered in Belgium, is also convinced that chief executives should play a more direct role in shaping the company’s employer branding.
Olsen previously held the title of executive vice-president of HR at Swiss construction company LafargeHolcim and he claims that his experience in the role fundamentally altered his approach to business.
“I changed from being someone who thought that if you had the right strategy and the right financial metrics in place you were going to win; to someone who realised that the only thing that really matters is having truly exceptional people in your organisation,” he says.
The need to create a strong EVP has become particularly important for Aliaxis due to the challenges it’s facing in the labour market. Olsen explains that the company is facing a scarcity of talent. “In some countries, we’re running at 30% less production, just because we can’t find the right people. So this is a critical business challenge we’re facing worldwide,” he says.
In a bid to reinvent its EVP, Aliaxis has focused on three key components. First is a sense of purpose and defining “why your company is useful to the world”. At Aliaxis, this has involved reframing the company’s purpose and describing it as a place where employees can work to help address the world’s water scarcity challenges through its work in developing solutions for fluid management.
This represents a big change in expectations from employees, according to Olsen. He adds: “The social contract between company and employees needs to state how your staff and the business can achieve something important for the planet together. That’s a big change from what employees were asking for perhaps 10 years ago.”
The second is creating a good company culture and third is attracting top talent. “Top-level talent attracts other top-level talent, so you need to have a truly inspiring set of leaders as the basis for any EVP,” Olsen adds. “The CEO has to be directly responsible for each one of these.”
How CEOs can reshape culture
French agribusiness Groupe Roullier has faced a similar need to redefine its EVP to attract talent. Its group CEO, Jérémie Lecha, summarises its importance succinctly: “We have critical positions in factories and if we don’t have the people to run it, products won’t be produced.”
To achieve this, Lecha sought to increase the level of transparency at the top of the organisation. As a family-owned business, the company used to have a policy of discretion and confidentiality in all its dealings.
“They believed that the less we say externally and internally, the better,” he says. “That was the mindset and I had to change that in order to increase the commitment of our employees.” This has involved presenting financial results to all staff and giving regular updates on the company strategy alongside other members of his executive team.
In addition, Groupe Roullier has created a 3,000 square metre sports facility on its campus where staff and their families can partake in 14 sporting activities – from tennis to yoga, basketball and Zumba. “It’s amazing how it’s created cohesion between teams,” Lecha says. “It has had a huge impact in terms of recruitment too – traffic on our HR website increased by 40% since we’ve introduced these sports sessions, compared to previous years.”
Return to office is the biggest EVP challenge
But CEOs also need to be prepared to adapt to the changing demands of their workforce. Flexibility has become a top priority for candidates following the Covid-19 pandemic. According to recruitment firm Michael Page’s Talent Trends 2023 report, it is now the second most important motivating factor for people joining a company, second only to salary.
“Hybrid working will reinvent the employee value proposition and we should see it as a tool in a toolbox,” Lavernos says. The challenge facing many businesses now is the perceived need from leaders to bring staff back to the office, while also managing employee expectations around flexible working.
Lavernos describes this as “one of the biggest challenges companies face when it comes to EVP,” before adding: “It means we have to reinvent what it means to come together and be together as a company in a hybrid world.”