Talent Talks

Lessons from Online Dating: Defining Your School’s Employee Value Proposition

Kelly Gleischman and Mary Mason Boaz
April 26, 2018

When it comes to online dating, we know that your dating profile is the critical step between you and the love of your life (or at least a good date!). You probably put a lot of time and energy into choosing the best picture and thinking of some funny quips about your hobbies and interests. What you put out to the world is all about who you want to attract in return. You also may know (or have learned the hard way) that if you say in your profile that you like to go hiking a lot, but in reality you mean you like “hiking” to the fridge for cold pizza while watching Netflix, then you are doing yourself, and the person you might date, a disservice.

The key to successful online dating is authentically representing yourself in a way that will attract the type of person that you think will be the best fit for you. The same is true for education organizations.

Competition for top teacher talent has reached a new high. The multitude of options leaves many schools fighting tooth and nail for their best people. So the fact that organizations are starting to become more serious about defining their value to the labor market is no surprise; in fact, it might be the number one thing that matters most in recruiting and retaining your top performers.

Businesses have long known the need to differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace. Private sector companies are obsessive about market research. We take it as a given that if we’re trying to sell something to someone (or attract a mate via an online dating system), we have to differentiate ourselves. And yet we don’t treat the way we attract and retain talent in the education sector the same way.

Recruiting and retaining top teacher talent requires that same intentionality of practice. It requires deeply understanding why current teachers choose to work at a school in the first place, and what has kept them there. Just as importantly, it requires understanding why former teachers chose to leave. Fundamentally, it requires knowing what your teachers want and how your proposition of value (i.e. what you can offer them) differs from other places they could choose to work. In other words, your Employee Value Proposition – or for you education jargon lovers, your EVP.

An organization’s EVP generally falls into one of the four following categories that employees care the most about: Mission & Fit, Total Compensation & Rewards, Working Environment, and Professional Growth.

At EdFuel, we love helping education organizations determine their employee value proposition: that special mix of things that transparently shows top talent who you are and what they can expect as an employee. We’ve seen that the organizations that get this right are better positioned to recruit with more clarity, find better talent matches, and retain their staff over the long haul because of the alignment and investment that comes with a clearly stated EVP.

Here are four guiding principles to help you and your Leadership Teams accurately and effectively identify (or refine) your organization’s EVP.

Ask, Ask, Ask

“The least questioned assumptions are often the most questionable.” –Paul Broca

Ultimately, defining the value proposition of your organization rests on understanding what makes people come to you in the first place and what makes them stay for the long haul. Your EVP has to represent the lived experience of your staff members. Many organizations “sell” values that they don’t actually live, which can cause employees to feel disgruntled if they were promised something that isn’t, in fact, reality. Going back to the dating analogy: if you don’t love hiking, don’t say you love hiking.

Putting Into Practice: Ask, Ask, Ask

Asking does not need to be overwhelming. Here are quick ideas for how you can assess what makes your teachers come to you, and what has caused them to stay.

Questions to Ask:
- What are the top two reasons you chose to work at originally?
- What are the top two reasons you choose to stay at ?

Potential Methods:
1. Assign each of your top performers to members of the Leadership Team. Task each LT member with asking each top performer the set of questions above.
2. Add the above questions to a pre-existing culture survey.
3. Incorporate the two questions in your pre-existing “stay conversations” with top performers.
4. Build the first question into your hiring process; ask candidates who sign offer letters to share why they chose the organization and record responses.

Share More About How You Ask Your Top Performers

Ruthlessly Narrow

If everything is important, nothing is important.

Working with so many schools on this concept has demonstrated one thing: narrowing down the list of what makes a school unique is HARD for leadership teams. Inevitably, the chart paper list of adjectives grows and grows as the discussion wears on – until we’re left with what reads like your to-do list on a busy week.

But determining your value proposition means ruthlessly defining your differentiator – your competitive advantage. For example, like many retailers, Amazon has low prices and a large selection, but their key differentiator is convenience. Buying things from your couch in your sweats has never been easier thanks to Amazon. The bottom line: People should hear your organization’s name and think of the two or three things that separate you from the rest.

Putting Into Practice: Ruthlessly Narrow

Prioritizing can be easier said than done. Here are some strategies to help your leadership team prioritize the components of your value proposition:

1. Based on the responses to the questions you ask above, have your team identify trends and themes.
2. Narrow these down to the most salient trends.
3. Do some research: determine which of those key trends is a true differentiator based on other schools or networks in your area.
4. Circle back to staff: once you’ve decided on your 1-3 differentiators, circle back with your staff to make sure they resonate and refine from there.

Share More About How You Ruthlessly Narrow

Define What You’re Not

“Oh I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that” – Meatloaf

If you ruthlessly narrow and your EVP is still similar to other organizations, it may be time to consider another approach: define what you’re not. Given the fierce competition for talent, schools are typically in “sell” mode with incoming candidates and highlight all of the perks of becoming an employee: the retirement match, the career pathways, the autonomy over your own work. And yet, it can be just as illuminating for a potential employee to consider what the organization is not or what they won’t get if they come to work for you. Transparency and clarity on what will not be true at this organization is often what separates schools with the ability to recruit top talent from schools with the ability to retain them.

Putting Into Practice: Define What You're Not

Take a look at some ways one network has worked to communicate what they are not.

As the Leadership Team surveyed their staff members, two key trends around EVP emerged:

1. Operate like family
• Know each other’s backgrounds
• Students come back to work there as adults
• Idea of “love” in the environment
• Kids are involved in interview processes for teachers

2. Holistic focus for kids and adults
• Yoga and wellness classes
• Teachers have flexibility
• Academic model focused on whole child
• Not super structured environment

Here is how they’ve identified what they are not and how they plan to communicate it with current and potential employees:

Employees should come to this network if they want a holistic, family oriented culture. Our school is not a strict and structured academics-only program, but rather one that focuses on the whole child as well as the adults in the building. Given this holistic approach, candidates should not come to work here if they are expecting to receive the top salary across the city because we utilize funding for programs, such as on campus fitness classes, that other networks may spend on salary.

Share How You Are Defining What You're Not

Over-Communicate Always

“Communication works for those who work at it.” –John C. Powell

If your EVP is something tangible (i.e. you pay at the top of market range for salaries) it is easier for current and potential employees to understand what they’re getting if they work for you.
However, for many organizations, their EVP is something intangible that can be hard to pin down. It can be a “feeling” or a “way of being” that people experience when they work there. If your EVP is something that is less tangible than a high salary or great benefits the onus is on your Leadership Team to define and codify that “intangible” element so that it can be clear to current and potential employees.

Putting Into Practice: Over-Communicate Always

Messages have to be reinforced constantly to become sticky. See the table below for an example of how one network over-communicates their EVP focused on “world class professional development”.

Ultimately, defining your EVP and continuing to utilize it requires intentional, embedded practice. How are you and your organization approaching this critical work? We’d love to hear your stories and problems of practice!

If you are interested in learning more about Employee Value Proposition or want to hear more about EdFuel’s work, please reach out to us at info@edfuel.org or follow us on Twitter @EdFuelOrg.

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