Ten Ways to Amazon-Proof Your Workforce

Published on November 19, 2018

Heather Davis, PHR, SHRM-CP

Employee Experience | Culture Building | Organizational + Talent Development

Amazon’s decision to open HQ2 at National Landing in Crystal City promises to bring 25,000 new high-paying jobs and several billion dollars in new tax revenue to the DMV region over the next two decades. Companies in a range of industries are scrambling to determine how they can leverage Amazon’s decision to their advantage.

One critical challenge to employers in the region has been overlooked in discussions about Amazon’s decision thus far:

How are you going to Amazon-proof your workforce to forestall losing top talent?

Competition for talent is more intense now than anytime over the past decade. We all know this. We talk about it casually at networking events and strategically in planning meetings with our HR leaders. Data support this perception: the unemployment rate in Arlington County has sunk to 1.8 percent, and to 3.3 percent across the entire Washington-Arlington-Alexandria region. As low as these figures are, they likely understate the scarcity of the types of highly skilled professionals Amazon will be seeking to hire. While some of Amazon’s 25,000 new employees will be relocating here from across the country or abroad, where is the bulk of this talent going to come from?

It is going to come from your workforce unless you Amazon-proof your talent acquisition and retention strategy. If you already have a strong employee experience that is unique, authentic, and mission-driven, well done! You probably don’t need to read this. For employers who are not there yet and want to start developing a strategy for how to batten down the hatches, below are ten things you should be doing internally to keep your best people exactly where they are. 

To give context to the list: I work in an emerging area called employee experience (EX) at the crossroads of employee engagement and human resources. EX is the sum of what an employee experiences throughout his or her connection to the organization — every interaction, from the first contact as a potential recruit to the last interaction after the end of employment. The list below is developed from my experience working in-house for some of Washington’s most respected professional services firms including my current employer, KGO, where we work with clients including: 2U, International Food Policy Research Institute, the World Bank, Vantage Data Centers, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, Exelon, and Fluence Energy to develop strategies to manage and leverage change so employees thrive during periods of transition.

Now that my frame of reference is clear, let’s begin…

#1: Best Place to Work (or Not)?

If you have worked hard to become a local employer of choice through the WBJ, Washingtonian, etc., make sure that there is no daylight between who you say you are and who your employees say you are when talking to industry colleagues. No matter how good your branding is, Glassdoor is the new equalizer. It acts as a mirror that employees hold up to what is actually happening inside of their organizations. The bottom line is that these awards had better be authentic and reflective of your employer value proposition. If you are an employer of choice, leverage this distinction with gusto.

#2: Define Your Employee Experience

If you take care of your people, they will take care of your clients. Put as much thought into your employee journey mapping as you do into understanding your client life cycle and experience. The quality of the relationships you have with your employees needs to be as authentically important to you as the quality of your relationships with clients. Consider how this shows up in your physical workplace, technology, and people practices from the first recruitment conversation to separation and beyond.

#3: Reboot Your Culture

“Culture eats strategy.” We’ve all heard this. And now we need to start taking it seriously. When was the last time you did anything with that culture survey or pulse check you put out to staff earlier this year? Stop sending surveys if you have no intention of acting on the feedback and start talking with employees directly. Have authentic conversations about the attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs inside your organization to get a clear picture of what you need to do to achieve higher performance and engagement.

#4: Diversity and Inclusion vs. Diversity and Exclusion

Diversity of people equals diversity of thought, which is the breeding ground for innovation. Is this jargon inside your organization, or a core value? Check out this pledge from CEO Act!on for Diversity & Inclusion. Develop your plan and start by hiring a steward of diversity and inclusion to lead this charge!

#5: That One Person – Handle It!  

The bully. Every organization has one or has had one in their rear-view mirror. If you have an employee, leader, or team that is targeting an individual or even teams, handle it. Regardless of whether these employees are “rain makers” or junior staff, I guarantee you they are running off talented, passionate employees who are tired of dealing with what you won’t. Develop norms for what civilized conduct and communication looks like inside your organization and add it to your employee handbook. Then hold all employees accountable.

#6: Conduct a Compensation and Benefits Assessments

We know that Amazon is prepared to offer competitive $150k+ salaries in addition to generous benefits

When was the last time you conducted a compensation and benefits assessment to determine if you were paying fair market value for your talent? When was the last time you made compensation adjustments to ensure that female employees were getting equal pay for equal work? Make time for these assessments and ensure you are asking both men and women to volunteer for non-promotable tasks too. Enough said.

#7: What If you Develop Your Talent and They Leave? What if You Don’t and They Stay?

Virginia Tech is building a $1 billion graduate campus within walking distance of Amazon’s new headquarters. This is a major expansion of technology education which will ultimately serve as a pipeline luring talented graduate students – some of whom would have been your interns and young recruits – to Amazon. Now is the time to deepen your relationships with local universities and colleges like your workforce depends on it, because it does. Also, ask yourself to what extent you are developing and investing in existing talent? To what extent are you promoting from within? Every employee needs a plan for growth and a defined career trajectory. At the very least, you need to know what core competencies (technical and soft skills) are required for staff to be successful in their roles. 

#8: Major Tom to Ground Control: Amplify Your Mission!

“Our vision is to be earth's most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online." This is Amazon’s mission and vision. Their motto is “Work Hard. Have Fun. Make History.” To compete with Amazon, every single one of your employees must be able to draw a direct line between their work and the mission of your organization. If most of your employees can’t see this, consider relaunching your mission, vision, and values internally and externally. Invest in training, retreats, whatever it takes to get your people realigned and remembering why they put their career in your hands.

#9: 1998 Called. It Wants Its Technology Back and Its 8’ High Paneled Cube

Is it easier for your people to work from home so they don’t have to deal with technology that never works or a dated office? Plug and play is the minimum of what employees expect today. Make it seamless for them to come to the office (when they are not teleworking) and integrate their work and meetings with their technology preferences. Make technology decisions that empower employees to leverage technology in ways that make their jobs and lives more effective, efficient, and productive. 

#10: Elevate the Employer/Employee Relationship

Employees put their careers and livelihoods in the hands of their employers. Is your firm’s philosophy that by paying your employees every two weeks you are “even with them” and owe them nothing more? Firms that are able to retain talent do not view the employer/employee relationship as a transaction. They inspire and empower their talent and build a relationship with care, trust, and compassion. In return, they get employees who are dedicated, innovative, and highly productive.

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Heather Davis, PHR, SHRM-CP is a a certified change management professional working at the intersection of HR, employee engagement, and talent development. She designs employee experiences that create best-in-class employers and strengthen employee retention. The ongoing theme of her professional life is a relentless drive to create an optimal work experience for employees to be successful.