When looking at a potential employer and deciding whether it would be a good place to join you are probably looking for all the information you can get. Despite this, you might be overlooking a sneak peak into the company, the value statement. An organization’s value statement almost always originates from the founding or leadership team, and therefore is probably the best place to start to understand what they value, and therefore what type of person it attracts.
Familiarity with the value statement can save you time and improve your decision-making on whether you might work well with new a team. We are all different, and the thousands of hires that become a company reflect this. A mistake that can lead to an unhappy fit at a new role is underestimating the variety of styles with which teams can be run and with which goals can be pursued.
The best value statements are clear outlines of the attributes that a company looks to as indicators and guideposts for success. More practically, they almost always manifest in promotion and compensation and might be a roadmap for your next few years after joining.
To illustrate this, let’s take a few famous examples and break them down for quick takeaways that an applicant might look for.
- Customer Obsession: Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.
- Ownership: Leaders are owners. They think long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say “that’s not my job.”
- Invent and Simplify: Leaders expect and require innovation and invention from their teams and always find ways to simplify. They are externally aware, look for new ideas from everywhere, and are not limited by “not invented here.” As we do new things, we accept that we may be misunderstood for long periods of time.
- Are Right, A Lot: Leaders are right a lot. They have strong judgment and good instincts. They seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs.
- Learn and Be Curious: Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them.
- Hire and Develop the Best: Leaders raise the performance bar with every hire and promotion. They recognize exceptional talent, and willingly move them throughout the organization. Leaders develop leaders and take seriously their role in coaching others. We work on behalf of our people to invent mechanisms for development like Career Choice.
- Insist on the Highest Standards: Leaders have relentlessly high standards—many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and drive their teams to deliver high-quality products, services, and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed.
- Think Big: Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers.
- Bias for Action: Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.
- Frugality: Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency and invention. There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size, or fixed expense.
- Earn Trust: Leaders listen attentively, speak candidly, and treat others respectfully. They are vocally self-critical, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing. Leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume. They benchmark themselves and their teams against the best.
- Dive Deep: Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, audit frequently, and are skeptical when metrics and anecdote differ. No task is beneath them.
- Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit: Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.
- Deliver Results: Leaders focus on the key inputs for their business and deliver them with the right quality and in a timely fashion. Despite setbacks, they rise to the occasion and never settle.
- Strive to be Earth’s Best Employer: Leaders work every day to create a safer, more productive, higher performing, more diverse, and more just work environment. They lead with empathy, have fun at work, and make it easy for others to have fun. Leaders ask themselves: Are my fellow employees growing? Are they empowered? Are they ready for what’s next? Leaders have a vision for and commitment to their employees’ personal success, whether that be at Amazon or elsewhere.
- Success and Scale Bring Broad Responsibility: We started in a garage, but we’re not there anymore. We are big, we impact the world, and we are far from perfect. We must be humble and thoughtful about even the secondary effects of our actions. Our local communities, planet, and future generations need us to be better every day. We must begin each day with a determination to make better, do better, and be better for our customers, our employees, our partners, and the world at large. And we must end every day knowing we can do even more tomorrow. Leaders create more than they consume and always leave things better than how they found them.
What can we learn from the famous leadership principles? Imagine you are an alien from space and only know that Amazon is the biggest company in the world with hundreds of thousands of employees. Here are some fast questions you could ask yourself after reading these famous leadership principles which have remained mostly unchanged since Jeff Bezos started his online bookstore.
- Am I driven by responding to what people are asking for, vs what possibilities exist to give them that they don’t realize yet? Do I truly want to serve the customer?
- Do I thrive in environments where my thinking will be challenged a lot, and I will always be pressed for details and to make a strong case for options?
- Do I like taking ownership and pushing those around me to move fast and stay frugal?
To continually provide our members with quality goods and services at the lowest
In order to achieve our mission we will conduct our business with the following Code of Ethics in mind:
Our Code of Ethics
- Obey the law.
- Take care of our members.
- Take care of our employees.
- Respect our suppliers.
If we do these four things throughout our organization, then we will achieve our ultimate goal, which is to:
- Reward our shareholders.
Costco’s unique philosphy is famous, and although at first glance it might seem like any other discount wholesale store its fans will all diasagree.
I believe Costco does more for civilization than the Rockefeller Foundation. I think it’s a better place. You get a bunch of very intelligent people sitting around trying to do good, I immediately get kind of suspicious and squirm in my seat.Charlie Munger – Berkshire Hathaway
We can learn a lot from this value statement even at first glance.
- Do I want to join an organization that obsesses over quality and community?
- Am I motivated by the overarching goal of providing the lowest possible prices for goods to customers?
We Haven’t Won Yet: People often worry that they’re joining Stripe, or any nascently successful startup, too late. Have all the large problems been solved? Are there still important decisions left to be made and things to be built?
Move with Urgency and Focus: Our users entrust us with their money, their businesses, and their livelihoods. Millions of businesses around the world (individuals, startups, and large enterprises) are open for business only if we are. When we mess up, miss a deadline, or slow down, it matters. We take that responsibility seriously.
Think Rigorously: We care about being right and it often takes reasoning from first principles to get there.
Trust and Amplify: By the standards of the rest of the world, we overtrust. We’re okay with that.
Global Optimization: Stripes do what’s best for the organization overall.
The Stripe Service: Through the tools that we build, we want to push the world to create better products and services.
Optimism: We are micro pessimists but macro optimists.
Value statements are reserved for bigger, older companies that your parents might have worked at. Stripe is an example of a technology company, growing but not yet the size of our first two example, that offers clear values that can be used to understand what they deem important. They go so far as to provide the questions you might want to ask for you!
- Stripe has very few titles, and we don’t share promotions publicly; after a few years your LinkedIn might not look as tricked-out as your peers at other companies. Will that bother you?
- Do you care a lot about having kind, warm, supportive colleagues?
- The value of Stripe (and your equity) is no foregone conclusion. While you’ll have a hand in the outcome, are you okay with a substantial amount of risk and ambiguity?
Getting a quick view into a companies DNA seems like a tall order until you realize there is a public list of what the founding team deemed essential to continue their success. If you take a glance at this list, ask yourself the questions, and then ask the people you interact with in interviews about them you will fast track your ability to understand the type of place you are looking at.
A final note, there are plenty of examples of value statements that are changed all the time or lack any real meaning. In these cases you might get eye rolls when you mention aspects of them to employees or find no relation to what you are being asked in the interview process. Be wary of these cases as it may indicate lack of transparency in general.