Whenever a company is growing fast, things change. Not only for the management team, but especially for the employees who must adapt to the new circumstances and the ever-growing team. At the same time, you want to make sure to keep those team members who’ve been there from the start. But how can you make sure they stay with you, even when the company is changing rapidly?
Piet Coelewij joined Amazon as VP Hardline Sales in the UK when the company was in the middle of a major growth period. Back in 2007 when he joined the company, Amazon was still ‘cute’ as he put it, counting about 17,000 employees worldwide. With a growth crisis going on, the situation was comparable to the current ‘war for talent’: A desperate search for new team members while trying to juggle the workload with the current team, making sure they stay motivated and engaged so they won’t leave for another job. Piet’s team faced 30 to 40 percent vacancies at the time. The workload was growing rapidly, and they needed to manage it with a low headcount while scouting for new team members all at once.
As you might have guessed, Amazon came out of this growth crisis successfully: Within the couple of years Piet worked for them, the company grew to a total of 56,000 employees. And it hasn’t stopped there, the company now counts almost 1.5 million people worldwide, the majority of which work in fulfillment centers. But how did they manage to keep their teams together while growing so extensively?
As mentioned, times of rapid growth can be quite challenging. Teams need to balance the workload with the people they have while desperately searching for new talent to join them. Additionally, every new team member can potentially cause turmoil, as everybody must adjust to the new situation. In the worst case, old team members leave because they do not feel engaged anymore within the new team.
At Amazon, they had a simple solution for that: The company has always been highly driven by its values. Innovation is key and they don’t only scout for innovative people, but also trigger them to be even more innovative by being understaffed by design. That way, employees need to find ways to automate and optimize processes to be able to handle the workload. By doing so, Piet’s team was able to achieve ten times the revenue while only doubling the team.
Why communicating company values is important
Clear company values are something employees can identify with from the start. The better they fit the values, the higher the chances they will stay with the company, even when times get tough. And the clearer you communicate those values and principles from the start, the easier it gets to find people who are suited for the jobs and the company. According to Piet, Amazon's 4 values couldn’t have been clearer. They range from being customer obsessed and passionate for invention to commitment to operational excellence and long-term thinking. When people joined Amazon at the time, they might not get the most accurate onboarding, but everybody knew what they signed up for. Once hired, employees were empowered to take decisions necessary to meet these values, within clear guard rails on how to do it. Combined with Amazon’s principle that everybody is an owner (many people literally got shares of the company), this gives employees a feeling of responsibility and keeps them engaged.
Therefore, company values don’t only help you to identify the right fit for your vacancy, they can also support the communication of your long-term vision to your employees. By breaking your vision down into clear principles and values, it’s more accessible for them at all levels. It will help your employees to stay engaged and navigate in a complex and constantly changing workplace. And when they are enabled to take their responsibility, they’ll feel as if they, personally, can help the company grow into the right direction. A small detail that highlighted this sense of ownership according to Coelewij was the pride of ownership of the company mugs that said: “Work hard, make history”.
Finding people that fit your values
According to Piet’s experience, it’s essential to make sure people fit your company values already during the hiring process: ‘That’s the moment you find out if they have the right mindset. You’ll need to find people that can live up to the pressure of tremendous growth. In the end, growth is a cycle of problem solving, and they need to be able and willing to be part of that’, he explains.
The lesson any company could learn from this? Communicating clear company values helps you to find people who support your mission and help you reach your vision. And they can help you to keep your team engaged, even when it gets more complicated at times, for example due to rapid growth or even a growth crisis. By using clear values, you can make sure everybody is walking into the same direction and nobody is being left behind. At least, as long as they are able and willing to identify with your values.
Listen to the full interview with Piet now on Spotify!
Is your company growing rapidly or are you even facing a growth crisis? Make sure to keep in touch with your existing team during this period full of changes. We're here to help!
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