Belong. Excel. It says everything about A&O

Read Time
12 mins
Published Date
Nov 29, 2022
Related people
The term may be unfamiliar, but what it stands for should not, because elements of the Employee Value Proposition (EVP) have been around for decades. A look at what’s gone into A&O’s EVP shines a light on the way forward.

If you’ve ever scouted a prospective employer and found on its website employee profiles that explain a typical day at the firm, or a page dedicated to a company’s values and ethos, you’ll have discovered elements of an EVP – content posted to help you, as a potential employee, understand what it’s like to work there.

But those are just elements – a fully-fledged EVP takes it a significant step further and, in today’s changing, competitive employment environment, that’s exactly why A&O’s EVP stands out.

Tarek Dawas, A&O’s Global Head of Resourcing, says an EVP defines why people should join, and why they should stay. “It’s a way for us to look at the entire employee experience, from their first interactions or connections to A&O, to their development here, to when they leave, and making sure that there is a consistency and ethos throughout.”

An EVP doesn’t start and end with graduate recruitment. “Absolutely not,” says Tarek. “A lot of organisations are focused on how they make the recruitment process fantastic, but then new people join and are suddenly faced with a huge gap between what they were promised and the reality.”

An EVP helps bridge that gap, but A&O takes it further. “Our EVP needs to be clear on what it is about A&O that makes us unique. How and where do we fit into your career? How do we provide opportunities for you to develop and progress in your career, and what can you contribute to A&O in return?”

With so many ways to stay connected with A&O when someone decides to move on, a key question becomes ‘what kind of relationship does the firm want with its alumni?’

“Maybe you liked the people you worked with, so you keep in touch,” says Tarek. “Maybe you like to tap into our learning opportunities. Maybe you’ll go in-house and appoint us as legal advisors.

“Our job then is to identify and implement the interventions that make the transition out of A&O as constructive and helpful as possible, as the better the leaving experience that people have, the more likely we’re going to build up relationship capital.”

A wider context

The articulation of A&O’s EVP comes at a time when the relationship between employees and employers has been fundamentally challenged, including by the Covid-19 pandemic, and despite the recent slowdown in the recruitment market, great people still have options.

Competition for talent is broader than ever. “It’s not just other law firms; it’s tech firms, banks and consulting firms,” says Tarek. “We have to recognise that what has made A&O successful in attracting and retaining people up until now is not what is going to keep us successful for the new generation of workers.”

The pandemic has resulted in a shift in what people want from their careers. Research by Gartner showed that 65% of employees feel that the pandemic has made them rethink the place that work should have in their lives.

That’s where our EVP comes in, clearly articulating why people should choose to work somewhere over all other options they have.

“I think there’s been a realisation from organisations that relationships are more important than ever, post-pandemic,” says Tarek. “What people are looking for from work has become more visible, and people are more confident and comfortable expressing what they expect.

“One of our lawyers could go to a different firm and earn more money. They could also go to another firm and earn less, but may be making that choice for other reasons.

“That’s challenging firms like us to express not only what we can offer, but what we expect in return.”

Comprehensive rollout

The creation of Belong. Excel. should be seen as the first step in a long process. Subsequent steps included putting visuals and language in place, resulting in recruitment adverts that went live in the autumn of 2022 onward that are noticeably different. Far from being an end in themselves, this was the beginning of the rollout.

So how do we ensure that Belong. Excel. is felt across the firm every day for all our people?

Tarek says that people managers will have a key role in bringing the EVP to life. “We focused on giving them everything they needed to be able to do that. Guidance, facilitated conversation tools, how to run a discussion session. And this was enhanced by examples that weren’t just based on theory – our people contributed to making sure that they were rooted in reality.”

One of the biggest challenges when rolling out an articulation of the employee experience is the global nature of the firm. Sasha acknowledges that the rollout will feel slightly different depending on someone’s location and level. “The message from the top is going to be consistent, but the tools and guidance we created are there to be localised and personalised,” she says.

“The expectation is that the in-country messages will be different – and that’s the beauty of it. It empowers our leaders and managers to engage in a conversation that is authentic and meaningful.”

Tarek adds: “although we have started the internal and external roll-out, we need an ongoing commitment to bringing Belong, Excel to life rather than treating it as a “one off” process. The feedback from our roll-outs has been positive but its clear that we need to continue to embed Belong, Excel in our everyday behaviours.”

An informed choice

The EVP reflects the post-pandemic shift towards a focus on belonging and connection, and how firms can contribute to success in all aspects of their employees’ lives. While the information-gathering process reached into the far corners of the organisation, inevitably some people will feel that Belong. Excel. doesn’t capture their experience of working at A&O.

“If we’ve done a good job, there should be something in there that’s recognizable to everyone,” explains Julian Moore, New York partner and member of A&O’s People and Culture Committee. “I don’t think we can state that you will experience every aspect of the EVP every day, but our aim is for it to be the reality for more of our people more of the time.”

Tarek adds: “We have to accept that the EVP might not be for everyone. And that’s okay too. Because one of the incredible values of articulating Belong. Excel. is that people can make an informed choice.”

Further Gartner research concluded that organisations that effectively deliver on their EVP can decrease annual staff turnover by around 70%, increase new hire commitment by around 30%, and increase the percentage of employees who are likely to recommend their organisations by 28%. The strongest EVPs are truly lived and experienced within an organisation.

The upshot? It matters, which is why there is so much focus on building awareness among A&O’s current colleagues, as well as among future hires.

“We’ve learned so much by going through this process,” says Tarek. “Our recruiting managers were clear in their feedback that once candidates started talking to us, they had an overwhelmingly positive experience. They saw we’re collaborative, thoughtful and willing to nuance the process for what they needed.

“The fact that we’re being clear about what it’s like to work here will help us attract and retain a wide variety of talent.”

But, crucially, does it reflect Tarek’s experience at A&O?

“Absolutely! Some days it’s more of the Excel, some days it’s more of the Belong.

“For me, I think Belong is really at the heart of the firm, and we have a culture that is inclusive. But the intellectual challenge is definitely there. I think Belong. Excel. reflects us at our core – a high performing organisation, but one with an incredible human side.”

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If we�ve done a good job, there should be something in there that�s recognizable to everyone.

Image of Julian Moore

Julian Moore


Creating an EVP

The employee experience can be impacted by many things: a great manager, inspirational colleagues, career opportunities, the nature of the work, the social experience, and the technology. How, then, can a global firm distil the experience into a single phrase or sentence?

Sasha Hardman, Global HR Director, says: “It’s a challenging process, as you can imagine, but we were determined to get it right.

“We gathered views from a broad, global cross-section of our people, as well as recruiters and other stakeholders. We surveyed. We interviewed. We held several focus groups, built around three key questions: What makes us stand out? What do you value most about working here? And how are we unique? 

“And what was incredible was that no matter where our people were in the world, and no matter their role within A&O, the feedback was consistent.”

The result? Belong. Excel.

Under ‘Belong’, what came through strongly was being a proud team player, collaboration, our friendly and dynamic culture, and All In, our powerful commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.

In ‘Excel’, the context includes working on the most complex legal challenges, being a socially responsible business, using advanced technology, and the international nature of the firm. All of this is underpinned by investment in people through professional and personal development, training, mentoring and practical support.

A sense of partnership and togetherness (‘We provide challenge, support and a place for you to belong. And together we excel.’) runs throughout the proposition, binding it together. It’s clear that emotion is at the heart of it.

“When we started this process, we debated whether the EVP should be aspirational; should it reflect the A&O experience we’re aiming for, or the A&O experience as it is right now?” says Sasha. “What we found as we spoke to more and more people across A&O is that we didn’t need to make it aspirational. The A&O experience is already incredibly inspiring, and I think that’s what makes the EVP special. It reflects who we are at our best, right now.”

Content Disclaimer
This content was originally published by Allen & Overy before the A&O Shearman merger