Why do the Amazon Leadership Principles Successfully Drive Behavior?
The Amazon Leadership Principles work to drive behaviors within Amazon. How do they do things differently than most other companies?
Most companies have some form of core values, principles, mottos, visions, or mission statements. We can call these “statements of value”, as they represent what the organization values in regard to behaviors, methods, and outcomes.
Particularly at mission driven non-profits, I'm sure that everyone in the organization understands (and to some extent cares about), those values. This is the simplest version of statements of value having an impact on how an organization operates.
On the other hand, in many for-profit companies, employees report that these phrases are there for PR purposes. These PR phrases are not front of mind, and don't drive behaviors.
When having a discussion at Amazon about the Leadership Principles with a few new employees, we had a discussion around how the Amazon LPs differed from their companies internal values. We asked what their companies had written into their values (mission, vision, etc.), and how it differed from Amazon.
Interestingly, every single employee in this group had to pull out their phone, and look up their company values on the internet. I know this is not always the case, but many employees are unaware if their company does have stated values or mission statements.
Why is it that some companies have clear and frequently used statements of value, and why are some viewed as PR statements? I believe the core differentiation is if you regularly use your statements of value in your day-to-day work.
Why should you use statements of value?
Simply having statements of value means nothing. If you say that you value something, but don't encourage it in any way, it creates zero results. For example, you could say that your company values transparency, but if you don't encourage transparency in any way, you have not changed any behaviors.
Pretend that you create a startup, and you begin hiring your first employees. Your personal preference is that you have a very inclusive and friendly culture. You create some type of statement of values which says that your company is friendly.
This sounds great. If you are personally friendly, you will likely drive that culture naturally through to your employees. At first.
However, as your company grows, you stop being able to personally influence all employees. This is true for managers as well, as your team grows in size. Your personal behaviors no longer drive significant influence without other mechanisms in place. You need to scale your personal values.
Do you think saying “my company is friendly” in the employee handbook will drive behaviors? I don't imagine that to be the case.
My example was you building a startup, but this is true anywhere you want to drive specific values and behaviors. If you want your organization to behave a certain way, you need to drive those values through mechanisms.
Driving behaviors through hiring
The first way you drive behaviors is to hire people with those values. Again, when you're starting your company, it's easy. If you value being friendly, you'll hire friendly people. If you value people being “self-starters”, you'll bias your hiring towards people who demonstrate those values.
However, how do you scale hiring for certain values, if you're not personally in the picture?
You create a hiring process which specifically screens for the values you care about. At Amazon, over half of most candidate's interview questions are behavioral questions. They will be questions specifically looking for candidates who exemplify Amazon leadership principles.
“Tell me about a time you acted quickly without enough information.”
If the candidate explains a situation in a way which demonstrates that they have (and understand) bias for action, they are more likely to be hired.
In this way, Amazon has created a hiring process, used thousands of times a day across the world, which hires candidates who understand and can demonstrate the leadership principles.
This has two ancillary benefits as well.