Hiring Success

Employee value proposition: Creating value from the inside out

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It was June 7th, 2018 at 9.40 AM, the monthly town hall meeting was well underway. In front of all my colleagues, I was handed the microphone to talk about the next topic. I was a bit nervous but also proud, emotional and humbled to be the one to reveal the Wehkamp employee value proposition (EVP). Nervous because revealing our employee value proposition to my colleagues made me feel like a fraud: What did I think I know more than the others in the room? Some of them have worked 20+ years for the company! But that’s what’s so special about EVPs, seniority doesn’t matter. It’s equally meaningful to every person in the company.

On a daily basis we all live our cultural values, the unwritten rules, the ways in which we interact and work together. We all experience our work environment, leadership style, compensation and benefits offered and the performance management system as base for advancement conversations and decisions. Now I was standing there bringing to life the reason I worked here, that reason I held so dear and likely the same reason most of my colleagues did as well. ’Learn. Laugh. Lead’ was our value proposition, and I was standing there talking through the framework and our journey that led to this value proposition. 

The value proposition captures the core essence of all this, which is the conclusion of two years of transformation towards a digital organization – a period of cultural change, changing mindsets to become all about ‘learning’ and ‘leading’ and bringing back energy and joy, all while winning together. The short and sweet promise of working here everyday. It was so simple that it had power. It was so true that it had magic. It was in our heads and our hearts… it was us. That moment there on stage with that microphone in my hands would become the proudest moment in my career so far. Also, needless to say, that day the promise was real. Learn. Laugh. Lead … our value proposition, our promise, our reality.

How did I know this value proposition was felt, lived, and accepted by others? 

Because we asked – a lot – and we kept going until we hit the core. We went on this journey together with PH.Creative and over a period of two months we dug into the heart and soul of the company. We held 10 focus groups, who were led by Dave Hazlehurst (Partner at PH.Creative). He kept asking questions and sketching scenarios for the participants to react to. It became clear that Dave, with his magical touch, built a relationship with the group in every session, creating a feeling of safety so that everyone could express themselves authentically. This way we got to really talk to each other and received a ton of insight into why people worked for Wehkamp and what made working there so much fun. 

By the end, we had a treasure trove of information and it had to be boiled down to its core. This took countless iterations between Ph.Creative and Wehkamp. We kept going and were never satisfied with the result until we really hit the foundational root. I can say that everyone in the project group, myself included, was pushed to their limits and beyond. But we eventually found the core essence of our cultural values, and brought forth a truly co-created result.

Why did we need an employee value proposition in the first place? 

After two years of leading a digital transformation, it was time to explicitly communicate to our talent community— both internally and externally— the benefits of working for Wehkamp. An employee value proposition also allowed us to add the necessary bit of symbolism and marketing to our daily practices and processes. We wanted to articulate our company’s promise for what an employee would experience in our time working together.  

We had our ten foundational internal principles that described how we win as an organization and how we bring the best version of ourselves to work. We adjusted all people instruments to the philosophy of growing and learning together, which is a key characteristic of a digital company. We did not have directors or managers anymore in the company, we had Leads, who lived and breathed this philosophy. They were our champions. Now, it was time to give our reality, our definitive promise to those who choose to spend some of the most productive years of their lives with us, the words to underline what we stand for and what we want to be known for. Learn. Laugh. Lead

What else was there except a nice tagline?

The employee value proposition was the framework that brought everything – who we are and what we do – together. It was built on four pillars that showcase who we are and cross-checked and aligned with the 10 cultural principles. Together, our employee value proposition and cultural principles helped us focus and strive, with minimal distraction, for our vision of ‘Becoming the #1 in the heads and hearts of our customers’. 

All this was supported by countless real stories of people experiencing moments of #Learn and/or #Laugh and/or #Lead every day, which we called #wehkampmoments. Marketing changed, from creating the content to finding the existing stories and sharing them. We built a new career site  (awarded as ‘Best Career Site 2019’ by the FIRM) that now serves as a platform to share these real stories and provides insight into what it’s like to work at Wehkamp for potential candidates. This also led to a new way of writing job profiles that resonated with our value proposition. There were all kinds of new initiatives popping up: #Learn initiatives around sharing knowledge, under #Laugh, the best Christmas party the company has seen in years (maybe ever), #Lead events, and so much more. 

Bottom line: Your employee value proposition is who you are, not a marketing campaign. It is a framework, and you need a strong foundation behind it to really bring it to life. 

What did it bring us?

Our EVP brought our culture of Learning alive in words and stories. Learning was already the chosen mindset and the dominant feeling for the people taking an active part in our transformation at Wehkamp, which in our case was everyone. Now we had a language to share experiences and build our legacy further. The symbolism and the words were adopted throughout all levels of the organization, from interns to the CEO addressing all colleagues at the monthly town hall meetings. At Wehkamp, we were able to create a culture where everyone mattered and they felt they did. It becomes even stronger with our EVP. Our EVP became strong because it was real. Personally, I’ve never been a part of an environment where I have seen so many people rise above the expectations of their colleagues and, more importantly, themselves.


I was definitely not alone on this journey. Accompanied by Miranda Berkhof, Emma Ploeger, Dave Hazlehurst, Hayke Tjemmes, Karim Gharsallah, Jieja Starrenburg, Robert Leufkens, Pascal Badenbroek and many many others, we were able to reinvent ourselves to reinvent talent acquisition at Wehkamp and to create a culture together with all of our colleagues around Learning, Laughing, and Leading.

Tony de Graaf

Tony de Graaf is the director of Hiring Success EMEA at SmartRecruiters.