I have always wondered why some organisations are able to attract significantly more than their fair share of talent. I believe the secret lies in the way that highly successful organisations like Apple, Google, Southwest Airlines, McDonald’s and IBM identify, differentiate, redefine and communicate their value proposition to their employees. The most widely used definition of EVP is “the set of attributes that the labour market and employees perceive as the value they gain through employment in the organisation”.
Successful organisations have quickly realised that one size no longer fits all, especially when it comes to managing talent, as every employee has their own mix of hopes and fears, which may or may not align strongly with the culture of the organisation. For me, this sends out a strong message that the modern organisation must move beyond offering a single EVP and rather customise its value proposition to each sought-after employee, consistent within the organisation’s employee brand.
Companies need to discard the notion that loyalty does not exist among today's employees and rather accept as a challenge the opportunity to create a value proposition that will attract and energise potential employees. Such organisations would successfully appeal to high-potential employees like MBA graduates.
Within the South African context, organisations must define their competitive EVP as relevant to their strategic priorities, but as different from their competitors. Their EVP must consider the attributes preferred by MBA graduates, highlighted in my research study, ‘Attributes of an employee value proposition for South African MBA students’.
The attributes found most appealing to MBA graduates include:
- job meaning, purpose and impact;
- future career opportunities;
- work–life balance;
- empowerment and development opportunities.
These six top core attributes are discussed with the intention of providing insight into what specifically appeals to and attracts critical talent segments, such as MBA graduates:
Compensation is the most important driver of attraction, ranking as the highest attribute. Compensation is a complex concept, which would need to be unpacked into its various components and levers of remuneration – reward, bonuses, share options, incentive schemes, etc. – by any organisation intending to use it to attract MBA graduates.
While compensation is powerful, it is not the only tool for attracting talent. Among graduates, there appears to be a yearning for more meaningful and purposeful work. Across most MBA graduates of different gender and generation, the attribute of job meaning, purpose and impact ranked second. A major reason for doing an MBA is clearly to have access to and be sought after by successful, well-led companies that deliver significant impact linked to person–organisation fit and organisational culture and values.
Another view that could shed light on MBA graduates’ preference for the job meaning, purpose and impact attribute is that they have the ability, passion and motivation to work under pressure to drive results. This allows them the opportunity to make an impact for their personal achievements, also known as meritocracy, identified as the seventh core attribute during the study.
The appeal is even greater for younger generations (Generation Y) who work to live, rather than live to work, as their parents did. Younger candidates see a job as merely providing the means to do what they want to do, which is to have fun, build quality relationships and fulfil a purpose with spiritual meaning.
MBAs on the whole find career opportunities both preferential and appealing when presented by companies, because over one-third of high-potential employees (HIPOs) are uncertain about what their career holds for them over the next five years. Future career and development opportunities go hand in hand. Both offer MBA graduates the opportunity to develop and progress within an organisation. While future career opportunities is an important attribute, it holds again an element of meritocracy for MBA students.
When future career and development opportunities present themselves, usually work–life balance, a non-financial attribute, goes out the door. As a case in point, South African MBA graduates seem to favour the work–life balance attribute slightly less than respondents in other studies. Within South Africa, a particular anomaly that presented itself in the results is that MBA graduates create, by their own doing, a situation in which work–life balance is threatened and so becomes an attribute that is highly sought after.
Millennials, the next generation of workers, come across as high-energy, achieving young people, who want to play by the rules. This makes them very attractive to employers. Generation Xers are, and will continue to be, culturally independent and suspicious of the workplace, disliking processes and policies but valuing results. They are workaholics who are living in the future but continue to yearn for work–life balance. Gender difference deductions about work–life balance are that woman MBA graduates place more importance on greater flexibility and the career choices provided by the person–organisation fit than on the work–life balance attribute.
Empowerment, another non-financial core attribute, presents somewhat of an anomaly within the South African context. Empowerment is recognised as important. MBA graduates, like most employees in South Africa, desire greater respect through empowerment. They also see respect, ethics, integrity, corporate governance and person–organisation fit as vitally important. Empowerment is especially important among female MBA graduates, who see this attribute as enhancing credibility and confidence, leading to overall greater respect and recognition.
South African MBA graduates consider development opportunities an important attraction driver with a slightly lower preference. From a South African perspective, this poses the question whether development opportunities drive greater employee commitment, rather than attraction, as it provides employees with long-term opportunities for development and career advancement.
These insights and conclusions have important implications, both for MBA graduates and companies. Clearly there is value for companies seeking to employ MBA graduates, in the hope that they will possess the high energy and passion of those with the motivation and capacity to co-create new insights and the capability to communicate, coach and facilitate the implementation of new ideas. At the same time, organisations that create a competitive EVP provide MBA graduates access to and allow them to be sought after by successful well-led organisations that deliver significant impact.