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Launch - the Making of a Facility (Part 1: Vision and Culture)

Updated: Mar 19, 2020

As I write this article I find myself newly promoted, assigned and challenged. My new facility is four hours to the north of San Antonio in South Dallas. The lights have yet to be switched on full time, the team is still forming and I could not be more excited about the confidence my old and new General Managers have placed in me. The prospects of establishing a building from the ground up through a concept that Amazon calls “launch” is reminiscent of my involvement in establishment of the Army’s 45th Brigade Combat Team (BCT), the 1st Armored Division’s Bulldogs (Fort Bliss Texas). The number one challenge of establishing that new BCT was the development of a first class vision and a winning culture. I suspect that it will be no different for Dallas Fulfillment Center 3 – DAL3 for short, under the General Management of proven operator Tim Huynh.

As part of an effort to document the stand-up of DAL3 and share my experiences I will write a five-part series that captures the tenets of organizational formation. Parts of the articles will draw heavily on my experience as an Army Officer, but as I take this new position for a ride my hope is to shed light on the challenges of senior leadership at Amazon and in that vein I will also share lessons learned. The first tenet detailed in this article is the establishment of vision and culture. The next four articles in order will capture the tenets team building, organizational focus, fundamental excellence and standards.

The organizational vision provides a road map for how the Facility (FC) will accomplish its overarching goals. The Vision Statement must look forward and create a mental image of the ideal state that the FC wishes to achieve. It is both inspirational and aspirational and should challenge employees. The statement also tells people what you want to accomplish over time and how your FC can make things different through its purpose and activities. Additionally, it provides the outside world with some insight about your goals and how you want to be perceived.

Principally the Vision should answer three crucial questions: what problem are we seeking to solve? Where are we headed? And if we achieved all strategic goals, what would we look like 10 years from now? In this regard there is time and space to achieve an ideal vision, but it all starts with verbalizing and memorializing in writing what you want to accomplish.

The organizational culture is established through the mission and values that are not only articulated, but rigorously checked, enforced and evaluated. Your mission / values statement lists the core principles that guide and direct the organization and its culture. In a values-led organization, the values create a moral compass for the organization and its employees. It guides decision-making and establishes a standard against which actions can be assessed. These core values are an internalized framework that is shared and acted upon by leadership.

Organizational values are assessed at a minimum by answering the following three questions: What values are unique to our organization? What values should guide the operations of our company? What conduct should our employees uphold? Some organizations illustrate these values as non-negotiables, core principals or golden rules. In any case they outline what beliefs you have and refuse to compromise for any reason. You will often hear that this FC is focused on standard work, this FC develops their associate base or that they are quality focused. What do you want someone outside of your organization to think about your business?

When thoroughly outlined the organizational culture and vision will empower subordinates and develop a since of pride not only in those things that you do well, but the things that count. You will find that teams sacrifice for one another and that stewardship of the Facility extends beyond a single department or shift. When doing what is right is more important than doing what is expedient or personally gratifying. I always found it extremely satisfying when an associate corrected me on standard work, or when a subordinate manager enforced a golden rule to the detriment of their team. Professionalism and sacrifice are born from culture.

Organizational culture can be both binding in its strength, but also extremely divisive in its absence. Everyone has seen or worked with the team, shift or building that is missing the mark. “You better watch out for them,” or “oh no not them.” It can be extremely disheartening and demoralizing when culture is negative, and it is incumbent upon all leaders to crush negative influencers and establish positive benchmarks for the organization to aspire to. “A rudderless boat goes nowhere.” And in the case of organizations the rudder is always the leader / manager. In other words you must provide purpose and direction as a leader or someone else will build your culture for you.

I do not often highlight imperatives. You must do this, or this is essential… But in the case of the establishment of a proper vision and culture within your organization I can think of nothing more important to not only the success of the FC, but the long term health of the building and its associates. Anytime spent determining who you want to be in the direst and resolute of circumstances is time well-spent.

Lee Flemming, is a retired Army Colonel currently working in Dallas 3 (DAL3) Fulfillment Center in Dallas, Texas as a Military Pathways 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.


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