HR & recruitment at Amazon, you ridicule yourself.

Amazon, who knows everything about their customers, EVERYTHING, and has a pretty OK user interface for their web shops, please, please, I plea to you Amazon HR – learn from your own services.

I came across “Senior HR positions at Amazon Europe” in Linked In. I was speaking with a Senior Amazon Executive during the fall and thought it would be great to get to know their HR in Europe, chat with them if they’d be interested in running an “HR-lab”, where new, modern HR could be piloted to support an agile, self-directive, modern organizations and culture. To get a feeling of how HR at Amazon works, I thought I’d apply through their service to these positions.

Step1: sign in with FB, LI or Google+, or creating a profile yourself. I created a profile. Name, address and the usual. Fine.

Step 2: upload your CV and cover letter. Fine.

Step 3: Answer ridiculous long questionnaire about if I have the right to work in 7 different locations in Europe, and if there are any restrictions to working there or not. Really? Seems like Amazon HR is taking the easy way – if you don’t have a work permit, don’t bother? Amazon HR…wake up, please. Have you heard about UX? Lean? Ring any bells at all? Do you really need this information upfront from hundreds of people applying? Are you not interested in just finding the best ones and then fixing their working permits to the country. You are HR, with this competence, right?

What really made me roll over and die a brutal HR-death, quietly screaming inwards in professional pain, is the following legal text:

Information provided in support of this application, including but not limited to my resume or curriculum vitae and the above information, is true and correct.  I understand that false statements or material omissions of any kind during the hiring process may result in denial of employment or discharge.

I hereby authorise Amazon to verify and investigate, directly or through third party service providers, my employment, education, criminal record, credit history and other information concerning my character and ability; and to inquire of my current and former employers and references information concerning such matters, as Amazon deems appropriate. I hereby release Amazon, such third party service providers and their representatives in seeking such information and all other persons, companies or organizations for furnishing such information.  In this regard, I agree to sign as a condition of my employment any and all releases not specified here, but which may be required under law, to implement this background check. I further agree to hold harmless and indemnify Amazon and their employees and agents from and against any and all liability arising out of such background investigations.

I understand that nothing contained in this employment application or interview process is intended to create an employment contract between Amazon and me and that no representation or promise regarding the duration or the termination of employment with Amazon is authorised or binding unless contained in a written document signed by an officer of Amazon.

Data Retention Agreement: By submitting your CV you authorise Amazon to store your information in the Amazon.com group of companies’ world-wide recruitment database currently located in the USA for the purpose of assessing your suitability for this and future vacancies.

You have to be JOKING!!

As if I would give you, or any third party you’d happen to pick out, the right to snoop around in my private life in any way you see appropriate, in this early stage of applying. What does “other information concerning my character and ability” really mean? That means nothing and anything. Lawyers. You should not let them design UX for you.

Data retention agreement: Where is the opting out option? Or maybe rather opting IN? Where is the right to be forgotten? I am an EU citizen, remember? EU is doing something for the data protection and privacy for their citizens, which probably is a bit strange to you. Your data retention agreement might even be illegal here, I bet some cool US lawyers could get you in trouble for making it mandatory for people to tick that box when applying for a job in Europe, giving you basically the right to forever keep the records of this applicant (and/or their FB/LI profile). Maybe some cool lawyers will read this and start thinking. Maybe EU legislators will read this and start thinking.

Amazon. You can stick this application process where appropriate, without indemnifying yourself, or any third party agents of your choosing, against any liability arising from the painful truth that your HR processes and the employer image you give through them really suck. Don’t hold yourself harmless, though. This is very harmful to finding highly skilled professionals.

Oh dear.

Fellow agilists, leanists, digitalists, modern HR thinkers.

We have a long way to go.

And Amazon:

Since, unfortunately and against all common practices, I am unable to delete my profile with you, I need to ask you to do that.
That data belongs to me, and as long as I did not tick your “I give all my rights away” radio buttons, you infringe my rights for my data.
So would you please delete it for me and get back to me when you have. Thanks!

Thanks for reading and please share so we can help a multinational get their HR a bit friendlier.

/Riina

 

PS. Apparently I can read about Amazon’s twelve (LOL!) Leadership Principles on their career pages, but not delete my applicant profile. Amazon’s leadership principles are: (hold on, you need to write them down to have them handy, because you definitely won’t remember these by heart)…Customer Obsession, Ownership, Invent and Simplify, Are right a lot (what’s this?! LOL, again!), Hire and Develop the best, Insist on highest standards (no comments), Think big, Bias for action, Frugality, Vocally Self Critical, Earn trust of others (by legal texts giving all rights to you?), Dive deep, Have backbone disagree and commit, Deliver Results. This gives me so much juicy bits to chew on, but I’ll leave out commenting on this publicly.

“Do as you preach” – my Lean Start-up experiment

Organic. It is a very important word for me. I am an organic chemist by profession. A “scientist”, gone people professional, by chance and by passion.

Organic gives a word for a system that constantly is adapting and learning, changing according to it’s surrounding. The feedback loops in an organic system are short, sometimes immediate. The organic system will find equilibrium, and aim for homeostasis, until the state is impacted by yet another external change.

I was introduced to Eric Ries’s concept of product/service development, Lean Startup, some years ago. It is about accepting the idea of now knowing the correct answer, finding out what works by constant iteration according to experiments, short feedback loops and failing fast. Sounded very familiar. As did agile methodologies. This is copying the organic learning mechanisms in a ridiculously smart way to product development!

My internal chatter

“I want to work like this. Through Lean Startup. I believe in an organic way of learning and adapting.”

“But I am a consultant. How can I sell guessing? I should know.”

“Should I? …But I really don’t!”

“What if I’d just say this is my “60% good guess” and “I am confident enough that I could learn the rest?”

“They will think I am mad.”

“So what? I want to work with the ones who get this. And for the ones who think I am mad – join the club, the queue is over there.”

“Oh this is sooooo cool! I’ll just try it and see what happens. Who cares if I fail?”

And so I did.

My Lean Startup experiment

I sent a “good guess” of a training/workshop to about 8 very prominent, highly skilled and sharp people in my HR network. Some people I knew from before quite well, some not that well.

I said I don’t have any colleagues, and I am asking them, as my potential customers, to be my product development “minds”. I told them that I am sending out something which is about 60% good and I’d like them to take their best shots at making this better, best shots at killing what is irrelevant, and commenting on how this could be of value for them or other HR’s.  I apologized for using their time, and thanked them a lot in beforehand. I was not expecting people to spend time on it. “If you can just spare a couple of minutes”…

I could not in my wildest dreams believe the specificity and valuable feedback I got from these professionals!! I was pretty emotional that people who are busy, very busy, had taken the time to help me. To help me succeed. Thank you, if you are reading this. It means very much to me. I changed some central parts of the “product”.

The result of the experiment

I am happy to show the result of this experiment. The workshop “Rethink HR” (SlideShare) – created and modeled with the help of my potential customers. Two of who have contacted me to continue discussions around how to start taking steps towards modern HR. (This is only in ugly ppt. format, but you’ll get the point… (my design department is on vacation).

Thanks to Ola Sundell for introducing me to Lean Startup many years back! Thanks to the lovely agile coaches, lean pros and Finland’s best agile practitioners (you know who you are!) for always answering my stupid questions when I want to learn more about these things.

I hope I will be able to deliver many of these programs, and we will together with my clients get to Rethink HR version 2.0, 3.0 etc… After running it ftf for some time my experiment might be trying digitalizing the content into Eliademy or Coursera.

You can call me Pivot-Riina.

Emotional regulation – Jedi-skills for the knowledge worker

Some people are natural at it. They keep their calm in most situations, handle mistakes or failures in a mindful and positive way or are able to take a mental step back in the midst of a tricky situation. If you haven’t respected these skills yet, you should. These people are like mind-jedis, with several emotional regulation strategies available, enabling great performance also under pressure.

The biggest misunderstanding among leaders seems to be that emotional suppression equals emotional regulation. Suppression is a form of regulation, but unproductive and even physically harmful. Suppressing seems to impact memory negatively (Turk et al. (2005) and Richards and Gross, 2006), and contraintuitively does not dampen the emotional experience at all (Gross, 2002). “Don’t think about pink elephants. Don’t think about pink elephants”. “Pink Elephants” is what your mind does over and over again…

Some Jedi-tricks of the mind which are relevant for your wellbeing:

  1. Attention distraction (deployment). Works like a charm, but is not always that productive and seems not to be key to emotional regulation (Bebko et al., 2014). “I’m just going to Facebook a bit before starting with that horrifying important report…”
  2. Labeling. Recognize your emotion and name it. You will use your brain’s executive function, which dampens the emotion with incidental or intentional top-down control (Burklund et al., 2014). “Wow. The strength in my anger is incredible right now!”.
  3. Reappraisal. Train yourself to see alternative perspectives and interpretations. “Maybe she is forced by the board to make such a harsh decision”. Reappraising is one of the most productive Jedi-skills available for leaders or knowledge workers. (Burklund et al., 2014) It is a skill. You can train it. You should train it.
  4. Distancing. Viewing situations and yourself from another than the subjective perspective (fly on the wall, yourself 20 years from now). Just try it. A great technique for keeping up a healthy body and mind. (Kross and Ayduk, 2011)
  5. Mindfulness and meditation. Oh yes. If you are a sceptic, that is where you are at right now, and that’s fine. If you want to reappraise and see alternatives, read this (Tang et al., 2007). Or this (Esch, 2014). Or this (Johnson et al., 2014). Or this (Eberth and Sedlmeier, 2012). If numbers 1-4 are equipment, mindfulness is a gym where you train to use them (Garland et al., 2013).

Soft? Well, these skills seem be the top tools to care for your cognitive performance. They are the toughest skills to keep your executive capacity available.

The toughest skills available today

This is common sense, of course. Keeping your cool, not letting negative emotional reactions (“low road”) get in the way of good performance and judgement (“high road”), is better long-term than being hot headed.

Emotional regulation connects directly with your Prefrontal Cortex (PFC) under stress. The PFC is the executive in every conscious thing you do, every conscious thought. It is like your mental sketchpad, the reflective you, absolutely necessary for learning and success in the knowledge age. The PFC is like goldilocks; it has to have everything just right. When a negative event turns on our fight or flight reflex, we are often pushed over the optimal level of stress (scientifically: the optimal level of catechol amines in our PFC), which means our PFC function is markedly impaired by the (stressful) emotional reaction. You are not using your full cognitive capacity when under high levels of stress (emotional reaction). You are reflexive, going on autopilot, and can’t logically weigh alternatives. Making decisions in this state is like having an adolescent you running your life. (Adolescents’ PFCs are not fully developed, by the way). Your autopilot is running the show, not the mindful you. (Arnsten 2009 and 2011, Arnsten, Mazure and Sinha, 2012)

The jedi-tricks are ways to dampen the emotional reaction, gain emotional resilience, and thus helps you keep cool under pressure or bounce back from reactive to reflective mode quicker. Which, in turn, keeps your most important part of the brain in the game.

Adolescents on Autopilot making your decisions?

How many of us have over-stressed management members making decisions, right this moment? Wouldn’t you be calmer knowing they make the decisions with their best capacity (PFC) rather than as an “adolescent on autopilot”?

Me too.

This is why Google’s has a Head of Personal Growth, and why they are running programs such as “Search Inside Yourself”. They got this in 2007. (Baer, 2014)

When will this hit mainstream business? When will you start believing? When will you start doing? And foremost, how will he businesses that have been doing this for ten years gain in momentum compared to the ones who still are asleep? I love the disruption of people practices and people science. Just love it.

Thanks for reading and happy Independence Day for Finland!

/Riina

References

Arnsten, A. (2009). Stress signalling pathways that impair prefrontal cortex structure and function. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 10(6), pp.410-422.

Arnsten, A. (2011). Catecholamine Influences on Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortical Networks. Biological Psychiatry, 69(12), pp.e89-e99.

Arnsten, A., Mazure, C. and Sinha, R. (2012). This is Your Brain in Meltdown. Sci Am, 306(4), pp.48-53.

Ayduk, Ö. and Kross, E. (2010). From a distance: Implications of spontaneous self-distancing for adaptive self-reflection. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98(5), pp.809-829.

Baer, D. (2014). Here’s What Google Teaches Employees In Its ‘Search Inside Yourself’ Course. [online] Business Insider. Available at: http://www.businessinsider.com/search-inside-yourself-googles-life-changing-mindfulness-course-2014-8 [Accessed 6 Dec. 2014].

Bebko, G., Franconeri, S., Ochsner, K. and Chiao, J. (2014). Attentional deployment is not necessary for successful emotion regulation via cognitive reappraisal or expressive suppression. Emotion, 14(3), pp.504-512.

Burklund, L., Creswell, J., Irwin, M. and Lieberman, M. (2014). The common and distinct neural bases of affect labeling and reappraisal in healthy adults. Frontiers in Psychology, 5.

Eberth, J. and Sedlmeier, P. (2012). The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation: A Meta-Analysis. Mindfulness, 3(3), pp.174-189.

Esch, T. (2014). The Neurobiology of Meditation and Mindfulness. In: S. Schmidt and H. Walach, ed., Meditation – Neuroscientific Approaches and Philosophical Implications, 2nd ed. Springer International Publishing, pp.pp 153-173.

Garland, E., Hanley, A., Farb, N. and Froeliger, B. (2013). State Mindfulness During Meditation Predicts Enhanced Cognitive Reappraisal. Mindfulness.

Gross, J. (2002). Emotion regulation: Affective, cognitive, and social consequences. Psychophysiology, 39(3), pp.281-291.

Johnson, D., Thom, N., Stanley, E., Haase, L., Simmons, A., Shih, P., Thompson, W., Potterat, E., Minor, T. and Paulus, M. (2014). Modifying Resilience Mechanisms in At-Risk Individuals: A Controlled Study of Mindfulness Training in Marines Preparing for Deployment. American Journal of Psychiatry, 171(8), p.844.

Kross, E. and Ayduk, O. (2011). Making Meaning out of Negative Experiences by Self-Distancing. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20(3), pp.187-191.

Richards, J. and Gross, J. (2006). Personality and emotional memory: How regulating emotion impairs memory for emotional events. Journal of Research in Personality, 40(5), pp.631-651.

Tang, Y., Ma, Y., Wang, J., Fan, Y., Feng, S., Lu, Q., Yu, Q., Sui, D., Rothbart, M., Fan, M. and Posner, M. (2007). Short-term meditation training improves attention and self-regulation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(43), pp.17152-17156.

Turk, C., Heimberg, R., Luterek, J., Mennin, D. and Fresco, D. (2005). Emotion Dysregulation in Generalized Anxiety Disorder: A Comparison with Social Anxiety Disorder. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 29(1), pp.89-106.

 

Photo credit: Faisal AlKhudairy / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA