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5 Lessons on My Transition Two Years Later

As I pen this I am on the precipice of my 2nd year Anniversary with probably one of the best companies in the world. Many of you have either been overjoyed by, mad at or in some cases indifferent to the travails of Amazon, but I have had an upfront passenger and driver’s seat to the good and bad. So today I want to highlight what I have learned and the lessons that

DAL3 Leadership Photo

have colored my experience and the way that I manage the teams and shifts that I’ve been charged to lead.

Fact: When I started the company shortly after my retirement on September 11, 2018 there were just a tick over 400k employees, and now barely two years later I have just under 1 million customer-obsessed fellow Amazonians lacing them up with me every day.

Lesson #1: My experience was in a major way affected by my approach. As an echelon above brigade Deputy Commander my scope was in the 10s of thousands. As a Day 1 manager at Amazon I had one process assistant and 45 not so enthused associates. I would say not so enthused, because they were being forced to give up their 24 year old super-experienced manager for me - the old dude that didn’t know crap. And my approach was just that – I don’t know crap, but I am absolutely willing to learn, deep dive and earn your trust in an effort to get better.

Fact: Since I started in September 2018 Amazon has merged with or acquired Ring, PillPack, Tapzo, CloudEndure, Eero, Canvas Tech, Sizemek, Bebo, E8 Storage, IGDB, Zoox, Whole Foods and more --- spending in excess of $20B.

Lesson #2: Own your own development does not mean that there are no developmental resources. For months I misunderstood Amazon’s developmental mantra of own your own development. I wrote about and railed against a system that did not take the development of employees seriously. I have since changed my mind as there are countless professional opportunities for managers and employees alike. The mantra simply encourages employees to take advantage of the opportunities as they arise and seek out managers or fellow Amazonians that can provide you feedback regarding them.

Fact: DAL3, my current building in Dallas, Texas launched in the summer of 2020 very close to Texas high school graduation time. And as part of my intro to new onboarding associates I would ask what brought them to Amazon? One night I asked the question to 100 new starts and 35 of them had that very day graduated from high schools in the Dallas area. It must be nice finishing school and on the same day getting a job that will pay you over $30k per year. Millennials!! Talking about hiring and developing the best…amazing!!

Lesson #3: Micro focus points can help improve your organization. For years I focused on campaign plans, operations orders and lean program development, but my time as an Ops and small teams manager taught me that hyper-focusing on small points can incrementally improve the performance of individuals, teams and shifts and in the end make a huge difference. The lesson is that over time associates master an area and muscle memory kicks in that allows you to shift focus to other areas of concern or interest.

Fact: At some point everyone manager hired at Amazon was assumed to be better that 50% of its current employees. As a philosophy and a way to keep raising the bar Amazon commits to hiring managers that they believe are only better than the top 50% of its current leadership. This philosophy is absolutely put to the test during major growth periods like we are in now.

Lesson #4: Individual contributions can make a difference in large organizations. Amazon encourages innovation at the lowest level and often rolls that innovation out network-wide. Invent and simplify is a huge part of company culture. I cannot count the times that someone said to me “yeah, so and so came up with that…” It is incredible how things get promulgated in this company. If you want to make a difference and live up to the Are Right A Lot leadership principle Amazon is definitely for you.

Fact: I could not be happier joining this company after my military service. I feel like I am still contributing at a very high level. Life after the uniform is not so bad.

Lesson #5: Mentorship is a continuous process and required for the personal and professional development of your managers. No change to this lesson as many of you have learned this in the military or other organizations --- taking an interest in someone else’s career is essential to their achieving at a very high level as well as giving you a chance to reflect on what you have learned.

Bonus Lesson: Get comfortable not being the subject matter expert…on anything. It gets better, but it also gets harder.

Thanks for the thousands of comments and followers over the last two years. This blog has kept me grounded and in touch with the military community and the current Amazonians that I now work with. You have kept me busy answering questions and making suggestions on how to onboard with company. You have shared your stories of how the company has supported you and your family. You have let me know when we have fallen short. But most of all you have given me an outlet for the goings-on in my life while experiencing this great organization…!! Day 1, Ownership, Making History!!

Lee Flemming, is a retired Army Colonel currently working in Dallas 3 (DAL3) Fulfillment Center in Dallas, Texas as a Military Pathways Senior Operations Manager. 28-year Army Veteran with extensive operations and management experience. The Boots to Amazon series includes regular installments meant to inform and educate Service Members and the public about transitioning into employment at Amazon.