Amazon’s Raise the Bar Program: Overkill, Wrong Focus?

Amazon continues to make the headlines with its corporate news. First drones servicing same-day deliveries, and now bar raisers who are tasked with finding the right hires.

In a recent article, the Wall Street Journal highlights Amazon’s hiring process, where multiple people interview potential new hires to determine fit. On the surface, I have no problem with that. We do the same at my consultancy. All the people who will have direct contact with the newbie have a say. Let’s face it, the most you get from a sit-down interview are impressions about grooming, social skills and to some extent verbal skills. In most cases, you don’t even know if they are telling you the truth. What you do get are opinions about whether you like the candidate and want to be around him or her.

Remember, apart from the stress of the situation, you are seeing the person at his or her best. That is important. A question and answer format produces limited, reliable information. If certain skills are required in the job, interviewers should test them, not ask about them. If other abilities and habits are involved, candidates should be put in a situation where you can observe them.

In the article, Amazon’s “bar raisers” are identified as “skilled evaluators.” I’m not sure what that is. Skilled seems to mean, in this process, being able to ask hard or revealing questions. If I were to offer some criticism, I would say that a serious problem with the Amazon hiring process is that it seems that people who will have to work with the person are not typically the people having the input. That should be an important part of the process as co-workers will play a large role in the new employee’s success. If the person is highly qualified but is not liked by the people the person will work with, that employee’s ultimate success in the job is questionable. If the team has input, they will have a stake in the person’s success and will be more apt to help the person be successful.

The article also states that Amazon wants its hiring process to be as objective and scientific as possible. I see nothing in the article to suggest “science” as a part of the process. What is the success rate of the evaluators? Where is the data to prove that Amazon’s employee retention rates are any better than other organizations similar in size and type?

Since this process has been around since the company’s beginning, it is relevant to ask, “How is it working?” The only data I can find is that they have one of the shortest-tenured workforces in the country. While the company gives many reasons for that, such as high demand for IT employees, repetitive work in the warehouse and shipping jobs, etc., the most important factor in whether a person stays or goes is determined by the way the person is treated every day. So it is not so much about who you hire as it is what happens after they are hired. With Amazon’s high turnover, it is no wonder that it needs to spend a lot of time with hiring. It might save time by focusing on keeping the employees that it has already hired happy and engaged, however.

On a related note, I encourage you to download “New Hire Training: Behavioral Approach Can Lead to Significant Training ROI.” This article, written by Tom Spencer, offers practices of a behavior-based approach to training that help organizations increase training ROI.