Lauren Winans, CEO and Principal Consultant and Next Level Benefits, talks with Sarah about ways to modernize the perception, creation, and articulation of an employee value proposition to improve success with recruiting, hiring, and retention.

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast. I’m your host, Sarah Nicastro. Before we get started, I do want to apologize in advance. If anyone hears any background noise. My kitchen is being remodeled and in the work from home life, there are very few places for me to go that would be less noisy. So I figured I would have equal trouble at Starbucks as I am here. So if you hear any loud crashes, smashes, or booms, please know that everything’s fine. So, all right. I’m excited to be here today talking about creating a compelling employee value proposition. We’ve talked a number of times on this podcast about how it is becoming increasingly challenging to attract new talent at the pace we need to with folks leaving the workforce. And what makes up a compelling value proposition for employees evolves regularly. And so, I’m thrilled to have on the podcast with me today, Lauren Winans, who is the chief executive officer of Next Level Benefits. Lauren, welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast.

Lauren Winans: Thank you, Sarah. I’m really looking forward to this conversation today.

Sarah Nicastro: Me too. And I will say, we had some technical difficulties getting started, which is a rare occurrence, and Lauren has patiently hung with me. So here we go. Okay. All right. So Lauren, before we dig into some of the things that we’re going to touch on today, tell our listeners a little bit about yourself.

Lauren Winans: Sure. My background is human resources. I’ve been a human resources professional for over 20 years now. Prior to starting my own HR consultancy practice, I was in corporate HR roles, primarily in total rewards in the employee benefits space. But have been an HR leader for many years with experience across all disciplines of HR. I’ve worked at large public corporations, primarily in organizations that have a multi-generational workforce that is dispersed across the country. So I have a lot of experience in trying to find the best ways to engage employees.

Lauren Winans: So when I started my practice about two years ago, just really excited to leverage my experience in a new and different way. And right now we work very closely with HR teams to help them build a really wonderful employee value proposition that is deep, that is truly what employees want, and not necessarily what companies want to offer. It’s something that we pride ourselves on from a strategic standpoint. And I can say right now we’ve got four different clients that we’re working on this exact project about. So it’s something that is near and dear to my heart and I’m excited to share some experiences and some stories with all of you today.

Sarah Nicastro: Cool. Well, thank you. And Lauren is my quasi neighbor down interstate 79 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. So we’re going to make a lunch date happen here at some point.

Lauren Winans: That’s right.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So I have a couple things that I think would likely be preconceived notions, maybe some of my own that I want to kind of clear up maybe to get us started. And I will say, Lauren and I have talked about the fact that the listeners of this podcast are primarily not HR. I mean, there may be some, but it is not the majority. That being said, I talk with you all listeners regularly about the challenge of filling the talent gap and understanding better what needs to change in terms of meeting those employee wants and needs is important regardless of whether you are actually in the HR function or not. So, that’s kind of the context we’re going to take today.

Sarah Nicastro: So Lauren, I have a feeling there could potentially be people that listened to the setup of this episode and think, I’ll tell you what the employee value proposition is. The employee value proposition is show up to work and collect paycheck. So what would you say to that?

Lauren Winans: Well, I would say, yes, that’s one side of the employee value proposition. The other side would be, well, what does an employee get in exchange for showing up and providing the company with the hours in which they’re providing their service. And so, the other side of this is, what does an employee get out of it? And ultimately those, they have to be in balance. So what the employer wants to get out of the relationship with the employee versus what the employee wants to get out of the relationship with the employer, they have to be you in a balanced situation in order to kind of keep that talent, retain that talent within your organization and attract new talent. And so that’s why it’s important to consider this concept.

Lauren Winans: I’ll try as much as I can during this dialogue too, to kind of let you know when I have my HR hat on and when maybe I have my leader hat on or my employee hat on, just so you can kind of get the different players and stakeholders that are part of this conversation. They all want something different and they all play a different role in the process. So an employee value proposition, ultimately, when you think about what it is, it’s what is an employee getting out of this relationship? And what’s an employer getting out of the relationship? And so the best way to infuse value into this relationship is to identify what it is that both parties want and to construct a… let’s say a structure around what that really looks like. And there’s typically four components of employee value proposition. And I’m going to talk about them now, just so that this concept gets a little more clear.

Lauren Winans: So it’s primarily total rewards, which is compensation and benefits that companies would be offering to employees. And then it’s also, career growth and opportunity as well as employer culture. The actual culture within the organization. So all four of those components in an ideal situation have the right balance of what an employee wants out of those four categories and what an employer wants out of those four categories. Some of those categories, most of those categories cost an employer money to offer or to create or to operate or to train. And in most cases on the employee side, these are things that are very valuable to you. Your wages, incredibly important. The health insurance that you have, incredibly important. The ability to grow your career and to work in an environment that’s inclusive and equitable and fair. These are all things that employees want.

Lauren Winans: And so ultimately, employee value proposition is an incredibly important concept, but you definitely need to get a good sense of what it is and not necessarily go into it with any sort of preconceived notions. Naturally there are, I think some, misconceptions out there around what value, how you can actually define value. But I think generally speaking, if you can think about, if you can really break this down into what does an employee want? What does an employer want? And yes, an employer wants you to show up and just do what you’re supposed to do, clock your hours and in exchange give you a paycheck. That’s the basic formality of the transaction here.

Lauren Winans: But ultimately employers are in a place where they need to build upon that, and employees have a lot of choice right now. They can easily move to another employer to find a deeper and more meaningful value proposition that works better for them. So to ignore this concept would be a miss in a lot of different ways.

Sarah Nicastro: For sure. And I think, just to explain a little bit, and Lauren and I have talked in preparing for this. We’re talking a lot about field service roles, manufacturing roles and things like this. And so I think there is this issue where maybe generationally, there was a time historically where the employees priorities or what they wanted from the employer was different. Maybe i.e. perceived as simpler. And as the generational changes take hold along with the fact that you have less people coming into these types of roles. And so it’s creating this urgency to recruit and to fill a bunch of talent. We need to, as an industry, understand that the desires of the talent base have matured and the way that we’re looking at this type of talent need to as well.

Sarah Nicastro: And I’m talking a lot about the frontline workers, but that feeds up into the management level, the director level and all the way up. I mean you need people in all of those spots as well. And so, it’s just something to think about. So, maybe can we talk about that a little bit, Lauren, in the sense of like, it seems like when you talk about employee value proposition or a compensation package, that seems intuitive at a certain level of management or leadership, maybe not all the way down to the front line. And so for some of those roles that the workforce is beginning to have more mature or different desires. Talk about the fit or the need to consider value proposition, whether you’re talking about hiring in a new CEO all the way down to hiring in a first time field technician.

Lauren Winans: Yeah. I think it’s very important at every level. Doesn’t matter what level we’re talking about. It doesn’t matter if they’re a leader, if they manage people, if they don’t, if they’re an individual contributor, if they’re entry level. The value proposition exists at all levels. And in most employers, it’s different at every level. So if you think about executives, you’ve got, executive compensation packages are very different than entry level or perhaps field, any sort of individual contributor is going to have a different package as an executive would. And it’s okay to develop employee value propositions that are different for the different positions or the different levels within your workforce. I think that ultimately when we’re thinking about employees that are individual contributors, and when I say that, I’m saying, they’re not managing people.

Lauren Winans: When you think about that type of employee, regardless of their entry level, or they’ve been enrolled for many years. What’re ultimately wanting to do is create a package that makes sense for that individual. And there’s a lot of data that can be poured through and analytics that your company will have at its fingertips to identify what types of compensation makes sense. Not just salary, but also like pay raises and bonuses and how fair we are and equitable across the different compensation scales and whether or not, people are getting fair on treatment across the board. All of that kind of is a compensation package, not just that dollar figure, not just that salary figure, that hourly rate.

Lauren Winans: And so if you think about that across all the different types of jobs within an organization, it’s really important to remain competitive and to make sure that the value that you’re building has direct meaning to those that you’re building it for. And so, for example, if you’re building an equity program for an executive, you’re going to want to make sure that the number of shares that are being offered to that executive is comparable to your like size competitors or your like industry competitors. And same goals for a frontline field technician. You want to take a look at that salary. You want to bench that compensation on a regular basis. You want to make sure that you’re ahead of those who are going to try to take those people away from your organization.

Lauren Winans: And that’s ultimately what a value proposition does, is it keeps people in the seats, it keeps people in the trucks, it keeps people wherever that they might be. It keeps them in role. And then ultimately allows you to attract more talent and new talent into the organization, and from a talent gap perspective, that is incredibly important right now. You ultimately want to bring in really bright talented individuals. There’s a lot of different skills that you can train than you can teach on. But you definitely want to be finding, talented folks that are willing to learn and are willing to grow with a company. And in order to do that, they’re shopping around just like you would interview several candidates for a position. They’re shopping around and looking for the right companies that align with their values or offer the right benefits and compensation, allow them to grow and move up the ranks over time.

Lauren Winans: And so it’s a really interesting conversation, because when you’re talking about the talent gap, the talent gap has really put a magnifying glass on employee value proposition, how important it is to the conversation and how important it is to make sure that you’re customizing an EVP, Employee Value Proposition. An EVP that is sustainable for the different pockets of your organization, the different generations within those pockets. And so it’s just really important to kind of think through it big picture, and that’s ultimately what an HR team does, but a lot of times it takes leaders to kind of come forward and say, this is something we need, I want to be able to offer this to our entry level employees. Or I want to be able to spend time figuring out a succession plan for these four individuals.

Lauren Winans: You’re absolutely in your right to partner with the HR team to develop a value proposition that works and is customized based upon your specific team, based upon what your workforce needs. And I think that there’s even folks who are maybe in an older generation, maybe close to retirement, they’re still going to find this meaningful, just as much as someone who’s coming in from college or maybe coming in from a trade school, or maybe coming in directly from high school. Everyone is looking for value in exchange for their time and their effort and their skills.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. There’s a couple points that I want to go back to there. So the first one that comes to mind is the idea that employee value proposition is important for everyone, but it doesn’t need to look the same for everyone. And I think that when we talk about some of the roles that companies in our audience are having the hardest time filling right now. So we’ll just generalize field technicians. Okay. There’s aspects of the role that are there already that if you just position them creatively could get more attention.

Sarah Nicastro: So I’m thinking specifically of a conversation that I’ve had with a gentleman who’s been on the podcast before Roy Dockery, he’s with Swisslog and he’s done a lot in his role in service leadership to revamp how they recruit and hire. And his point was as he started as a pretty young man in their business as a field technician. And one of the things that he loved is being able to travel, and see different areas of the country. And so just kind of understanding better what aspects of the job could be attractive to candidates and looking for how to creatively call out different things, rather than just always defaulting to only, and here’s what the pay is. I mean, there are other things that you can leverage to your advantage with a little bit of creativity to get people’s attention or to differentiate or to draw yourselves in.

Sarah Nicastro: So I’m wondering if we can talk a little bit about, I think people have a better understanding of the hard benefits. Like, okay, well, people obviously want paid and for a lot of folks that consists of, a base pay and some sort of variable pay and how should that be structured, etc. Things like health insurance, things like that are fairly standard. Let’s maybe talk about some of the soft benefits and different categories or examples of those so that the listeners can get kind of get a sense of areas they could maybe explore if they haven’t.

Lauren Winans: Yeah. I think anything that really kind of falls into that career or culture bucket, those two buckets in addition to the comp and benefits. But the career and the culture, I think are really where some of those soft items kind of fall into. So if you think about culture, an organization’s mission and values are really important and they need to be defined and they need to be communicated. And so employees who are coming into an organization need to have a really good sense of what those are. And it’s really important for an organization to also be able to kind of walk that walk and not necessarily just be kind of like, okay, here’s our mission and values, but they don’t have an environment that kind of lives up to that.

Lauren Winans: And so, the atmosphere and the sense of teamwork and camaraderie that kind of exists within culture is something that can translate from top to bottom, from an office setting to a field setting, to a factory setting. All these different, it doesn’t matter where an employee is working. You should be able to feel the culture throughout out the entire organization.

Lauren Winans: And culture can be something that you’re waiting to feel as an employee, or it can be something that you participate in because it is part of your day to day interaction with your coworkers or with your boss, or with other colleagues. And I think the reason I say that is that particularly, employees that are dispersed and are not necessarily in one location aren’t always going to feel culture exactly the same way that someone who might be sitting in a corporate office is feeling it. But you can still live it, it can still be embodied. It can still be something that your leader takes the time, effort and energy to make sure that by checking in with you, by communicating with you, by sharing messages that you to be hearing about, by letting you know about big company changes or how the company’s investing in some community efforts, or has just made a charitable contribution or it can also even be making sure that you have an opportunity to watch any sort of company videos or read any company announcements directly.

Lauren Winans: It’s a matter of what steps and what types of activities and events can, myself as a leader, get my employees involved into as well as if I’m an employee, what types of things do I want my leader to help inform me about. And all of these relationships are all two way streets. So let’s say, right now you are listening to this and you’re an employee, not managing anybody, but you just don’t feel that connected to your organization. There is nothing wrong with trying to figure out how to seek out repairing that, because if you don’t have a deep connection with your organization, perhaps that’s a box that remains unchecked when it comes to the employee value proposition that your organization is offering you. Your company wants to know that. They want to know if they’re falling short in some of those areas. I mean, most companies do.

Lauren Winans: And so expressing that is not necessarily in my opinion an issue. I think it’s, hey, I need to better understand what our mission is here, or I need to better understand what my guiding principles are when I’m making decisions out in the field on my own. Or are we able to get together once a month so I can meet with my team. Or, hey, can we create some sort of standard check-in meeting where, we’re able to kind of just discuss some of the challenges that we have so that we can all be on the same page, kind of help each other through it.

Lauren Winans: There’s a variety of different soft skills that kind of fall into a culture bucket. And culture, that term is thrown around a lot. And I think the best way that I would describe it is, it’s how you feel about the company that you’re working for. It’s how connected you are to their mission, to their leaders. Whether or not you agree with what’s going on, or you don’t. And it’s kind of hard to sell to someone who’s coming into an organization as someone who’s coming in from, let’s say maybe they’re in their early twenties. It’s a hard concept to kind of wrap your brain around. It’s also hard for someone who might be on the tail end of their career and going to be retiring soon.

Lauren Winans: Culture wasn’t necessarily something that was that big of a… It wasn’t really part of a value proposition for the entire time that they were employed. But it’s about making sure that you are able to get something out of this relationship more than just financially speaking. Now, some people may be totally fine with a financial arrangement that does not have anything to do with culture, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But there are a lot of employees who want to love where they work, who want to connect on a deeper level, and who might feel that that connection is lacking and are looking for ways to kind of bridge that gap. So I think the soft side of culture, combined with a little bit of the soft side of career, like around coaching and training. Those are types of things that a company who does culture and career development well will definitely find themselves being able to retain employees over longer periods of time.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. So it is tricky because number one. Well, let me just say, you’re right. It might not be super critical to everyone, but I think there’s a lot of research that indicates its far more critical, too far more new employees than it ever has been before. So I think it is undoubtedly incredibly important to be thinking about. So there’s that.

Sarah Nicastro: The second thing that gets tricky though is, we’re talking about this assuming that the company does care about its culture and the environment it’s providing. Which is fine for the sake of this conversation, but to put real action behind it, that has to be true. And then the third thing that gets really challenging is just playing devil’s advocate. If I’m someone who has a bunch of different job opportunities, or I’m taking a look at what’s available in a certain industry, everyone is going to say they have a good company culture. And so it gets hard to think about tactical ways to illustrate that.

Sarah Nicastro: So to your point, I think that when we talk about retention, it does the work for you. Like if you are really putting the effort into having a good company culture and providing career development opportunities for employees that you bring in, that will be reflected in retention. But I’m thinking about sort of the initial sell, the initial hiring process and what is in the employee value proposition that sticks out. And that is really tough. So what I’m thinking, now I’m no HR expert and maybe you’re going to tell me like that’s too expensive or crazy or whatever, but what I’m thinking about, again, through the lens of our audience is, you all know your company mission and company values and company culture characteristics better than anyone else. But maybe look at those and try and think through some fairly inexpensive ways to make those tangible for new hires.

Sarah Nicastro: So for instance, like let’s say that you want your employees that are in the field to have an opportunity to learn and educate them. Maybe give them an audible subscription, or maybe… things like that. Maybe it’s Spotify. I mean, whatever it is like you’re talking about 10 or $15 a month. Something really low cost, but things like that, I’m just thinking whether it’s you want to play up the fun or the education or the we care. I mean, there’s a ton. You could do Headspace. If you want to say, hey, mental health is very important to our company, so we give all of our employees a subscription to Headspace or Calm or whatever the different options are. But I’m just thinking like, those are the type of creative thinking processes that I believe companies need to be doing to take what on paper is very abstract, and honestly easy to be highly skeptical of. And at least put some specifics behind it in a way that can stand out a little bit and make people think like, oh.

Sarah Nicastro: I mean, I’ve seen people that do, they purchase their employees a certain number of books per year, or they do. And those are all just for their consumption. That’s more on the culture side. On the career side, what I’ve seen that has worked well is because the younger workforce does want to have more progression opportunity and we kind of know that with them coming in, mapping that out and discussing that in the interview and hiring process so that they have of what the longer term potential is from the outset. So I’m kind of babbling, but I’m just trying to think through different ways to take some of the soft things that can be very abstract and try and make them more tangible for folks.

Lauren Winans: Yeah. I think those are really good examples. And I think that there is some cost issues that come along depending on how large you are with those sorts of things and how many employees you might have. But that’s the type of actionable examples that we need to be thinking about when you think about employee value proposition, because it’s going to be different for each person you’re kind of catering it to.

Lauren Winans: And to your point, when you’re trying to attract new individuals to your organization, really trying to hone in almost like creating a persona. Okay, well, if I’m going to be hiring a 25 year old in this particular geographic area who is single, who doesn’t [inaudible 00:33:31]. And you kind of list out who they are, you can develop more of a custom EVP in a different way. And if you just kind of wing it and you’re just kind of like, you’re trying to figure it out.

Lauren Winans: But yeah, it’s all about creativity. It’s about the type of people you want working for your organization and what you know about them and what you know would be valuable to them and meaningful and then just creating something around that, whether that be comp or whether that be a benefit, whether that be career development in, maybe it’s a succession plan or maybe it is something as simple as I just want these people… Anyone on my team to have access to masterclass or something that helps people to learn a little bit more from a personal and a professional standpoint. And then culture naturally kind of wraps around all of this and is really critical.

Sarah Nicastro: I was thinking maybe focus groups would be a good idea too, in the sense of, if you have a new wave of employees come in that you can tap into, or if you have your HR team, maybe it’s a university, high school, trade school, depending on what the requirements of sort of your entry level positions are. But go out and sit down in a room of those people and just ask open-ended questions. Like, as you start looking for jobs, what are you looking for? Or how would you rank these criteria? What’s the most creative idea… And get some input that way. Because that’s one of the things too, is I think historically we’ve reexamined employee value proposition maybe less frequently than we need to today. Would you agree with that?

Lauren Winans: I agree. I think what I would say is on an annual basis, you need to be looking at the four factors that kind of make it up. You don’t necessarily need to make sweeping changes in each category every year, but you need to be assessing it on an annual basis. And the reason being is that things are changing so rapidly within the labor market, within the workforces that, we all are a part of. And it is silly to think that something that worked you year ago or two years ago is still working today. And not just talking about the pandemic, I’m just talking about generally speaking, even if we aren’t in a pandemic, it would still be something that you need to be looking at regularly to stay ahead.

Lauren Winans: And ultimately we all want to stay ahead and be pulling the best talent possible into our organizations and be working with the best colleagues possible. That’s what makes work fun is when you can accomplish things together on a different level. And the only way you’re going to be able to do that is to gradually enhance that EVP year over year to a place where you can feel confident and comfortable that you are able to retain and you’re able to attract. And it’s a hard thing to do because I think there’s a misconception that HR and or leaders are solely responsible for EVP, and that’s not the case. We’re all responsible in some way, shape or form in all of these categories. And even an employee in an entry level position is responsible for contributing to the culture of the organization.

Lauren Winans: So everyone touches this in various different ways and it’s important. It’s more important now than it ever has been. It’s going to get more important than it is today in the future, and it’s got to be something that you at least spend some time better understanding, and figuring out which ways you can take action on it.

Sarah Nicastro: What are some of the, I guess, further changes or evolution of kind of what employees want or what becomes important to consider over like the next five years?

Lauren Winans: I think that EVP is going to get bigger over time and not just focused mainly on like four categories. I think diversity equity and inclusion is going to end up with more of its own category, so to speak and not just kind of shoved in there in the culture category. But that’s going to become more important and naturally so. So I think that is something that we can see kind of change over time. I do think too that some of the things that we’re used to seeing today as it relates to benefits and compensation are going to change over time, especially if federal minimum wage at a $15 an hour rate does indeed take hold. I think there’s going to be quite a few changes in total rewards and how we kind of look at salary scales and compensation in general.

Lauren Winans: And then lastly, I think from a career development standpoint. What we’re finding right now with a lot of the clients that we work with is that there’s a desire to make sure that all training components and methods are able to meet people where they’re at. So for example, I think there’s going to be a lot more training and development opportunities available via video through your company over time. As well as through external third party sources that your company’s going to contract with to offer development opportunity. And so I think that’s going to be something that grows over time because of desire and need, but also because we all consume content differently and we’re all leaning more towards that video, audio content more so than actually reading the words on a page.

Sarah Nicastro: Right. That makes sense. Okay. In summary, any sort of last words of wisdom, missteps to avoid.

Lauren Winans: Yeah. What I would say is, if this concept was a little bit foreign today, that makes total sense, because this is an evolving concept that changes quite a bit. But what I’d like you take away from the conversation hopefully is that there are components to an employee value proposition that could attract and retain employees in a different way than maybe it is being done today. And so spending some time, identifying what that EVP is and coming up with solutions for tangible changes that are going to move the needle for you to bring in talented individuals and keep them, I think is worth the exercise of going through.

Lauren Winans: And you can even make small tangible changes for your own teams. If you are a leader listening to this, you can make similar, just small changes to some of the things that you’re doing to increase inclusivity or help someone get promoted by getting more development opportunities or making sure that everyone on your team is making a fair and equitable wage for the work that they’re putting in. You have the power, and I think we all have the power when it comes to this. It’s just a matter of figuring out where you kind of fit in the equation. And I hope that you will also kind of take away from today that, this is an important concept to continue to learn about and to not necessarily assume that just giving someone a paycheck is going to be enough anymore.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I did think of one other question. So we talked a little bit at the beginning about sort of assessing the competitive landscape. So in your industry, what are other people providing and how do you match or address that. But I also think there could be some maybe creative inspiration just looking outside of industry. So I just wanted to ask, and it’s okay if the answer is no, but is there any one company that comes to mind or a couple that you think do a really good job of this right now?

Lauren Winans: I really do think that Walmart does a really great job of this. I think everyone has varying opinions on Walmart and some of the stances that they take. But what I will say is that their ability to create culture and infuse it in every single thing that they do, including making sure that total rewards packages and career development opportunities are available. They really take the time to know their employee base and know what would be meaningful to them. And they develop their EVP around that. And I think they do it very well. So I would say they’re a really great example to turn to, even though they might not necessarily be within your specific industry. They have some really great examples of how they’re doing that. And it’s public, you can just like Google these things and the information on their website. And so, there might be some really great ideas out there to kind of take advantage of.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, that’s good. I think it is helpful. It’s always helpful to look in industry, but I think it’s helpful to look outside of your own industry as well and get some different thoughts and fuel the creative process. So, okay. All right, Lauren. Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate you coming and talking with our listeners today. And this is a super important topic, and I know that there’s a lot of other areas of this we can address. So I’d love to have you back at some point.

Lauren Winans: Yeah. I would have to come back. We’ve just scratched the surface of EVP.

Sarah Nicastro: Yes.

Lauren Winans: But I very much appreciate the conversation and I look forward to chatting with you again soon.

Sarah Nicastro: Awesome. All right. You can find more by visiting us at futureoffieldservice.com. You can also find us on LinkedIn as well as Twitter at thefutureoffs. The Future of Field Service podcast is published in partnership with IFS. You can learn more at ifs.com. As always, thank you for listening.