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How Amazon Web Services is ‘doubling down’ to create a meaningful EX

Ian Wilson, Amazon Web Services
Ian Wilson
Ian Wilson is vice president of Human Resources, Amazon Web Services.

When it comes to the workplace, the only constant over the past couple of years has been change. Employers and employees alike have adapted to shifting expectations, new ways of working and new understandings of the office. These shifting dynamics make for an increasingly tough climate for HR leaders, yet also come with the chance to turn these challenges into opportunities. I consider myself an optimist, yet a realist—and this balance shapes the way I approach my job at Amazon Web Services (AWS). This year, I’m focused on three areas that I believe will be instrumental in maintaining a thriving workplace: culture; inclusion, diversity and equity; and talent management.

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We take culture seriously at AWS and Amazon. By creating an environment where our employees can become the best versions of themselves and have a strong sense of belonging, they will be inspired to innovate and solve complex problems for our customers. Amazon’s Leadership Principles are the foundation of our culture, and employees use them in their everyday work to drive effective decision-making. As our organization grew over time, we needed to train new employees on our culture at scale. That’s why a couple of years ago, we launched “New Builders Success,” a comprehensive remote onboarding program with an emphasis on our Leadership Principles and other ways of working that are unique to Amazon.

This year, we are prioritizing the necessary resources and support to maintain the “Day 1” mindset, which is about being constantly curious, inventive, nimble and fast. One of the ways to activate this is by driving effective communication. We encourage employees to write documents as a forcing function to capture information concisely and think backward on behalf of customers. And as a data-driven company, we conduct inspection checks by surveying our employee sentiment on the Day 1 mindset. Data is often the best way for us to know if we need to reassess or change our strategy, and we are constantly experimenting and iterating to build a culture that sets up our employees and business for success.

We can’t create a strong culture without continuously focusing on inclusion, diversity and equity. As we face economic uncertainty, people are rightfully asking, “What will happen to corporate diversity that has been reignited in recent years?” It’s a welcoming question that shows we have institutional accountability. We have made significant strides in society and the industry, but we all need to keep our collective foot on the gas to continue driving greater progress.

At AWS, we lead with inclusion. We believe increasing inclusion will attract and retain people from different backgrounds, creating a more diverse workforce. But more importantly, it will enable every individual to thrive and make it possible to realize equitable outcomes. Building a sense of community at the company at large starts with training on inclusive hiring, a standard for all recruiters. We have Bar Raisers who are trained through a comprehensive program to help us hire the best long-term talent and ensure all interviewers act on fair and inclusive practices. We also implemented Candid Chats for candidates to directly hear from employees from underrepresented groups on their experiences working at Amazon or AWS.

See also: Josh Bersin’s 9 HR areas to focus on this year

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These are just a couple of examples of how we have doubled down on ID&E over the years. This year at AWS, we will continue building and iterating mechanisms to foster a greater sense of inclusion not just for our employees in the U.S. but globally. We have an Inclusion Pledge program that activates employees to interrupt bias and microaggressions when we see them, increases their knowledge on how to be an ally, develops a safe space for difficult conversations and more. We’re gathering data to evaluate the impact and will explore developing a playbook for our customers. It’s important for us to share what’s working and what’s not with our customers because we need to affect change not just internally, but also externally. That leads us to continue investing in underrepresented communities through initiatives like the AWS Innovation Fund, which provides micro-grants for employees to support social impact organizations that transform the lives of individuals from underrepresented groups. We’re working to make a sustainable impact for these communities by empowering our employees to have ongoing engagement with nonprofits at scale.

Finally, we know that creating an exceptional employee experience is multifaceted, and having opportunities to grow and learn new skill sets is significantly important for our employees. According to a Workplace Intelligence survey, most workers are concerned they lack the skills (78%) and education (71%) required to advance their careers, and 70% feel unprepared for the future of work.

AWS’ rapid growth requires continued iteration on the development experiences offered to our employees. In other words, there isn’t a size that fits all when it comes to learning and development. That’s why we approach it in a few ways: offer personalized training across a number of development topics; provide flexible access on when employees engage in the experiences; and build more trainings or reiterate current programs that can help close the skills gap. For instance, employees looking to obtain technical skills can take advantage of upskilling opportunities like our Machine Learning University.

The other area that we will continue to double down on is manager training, as managers play a pivotal role in our culture and the employee experience. In addition to continuing to offer development programs for senior managers, we have a program for new managers. This extends to those who were hired into a manager role externally as well as those who transition from an individual contributor role, and is designed to provide a personalized learning path based on role and management experience. Amazon’s career-advancement, mobility and skills-development programs help us attract and retain talent and are integral to our culture now and in the future.

It’s been a challenging couple of years for any HR practitioner, to say the least; we experienced a global pandemic, the “Great Resignation” and now economic uncertainty is creating yet another turbulent environment on all fronts. But as HR leaders, we must prioritize creating a strong culture; continue championing inclusion, diversity and equity; and help our people grow while staying agile. It’s no small feat to build a meaningful employee experience, but I’m confident that HR teams are up for the challenges in 2023 given all that we’ve faced, overcome and learned in such a short period of time.