I have found it difficult to describe my life in retirement considering that I took a mere six days between my last day in the Army and first day at Amazon. Twenty-eight years of leadership from platoon to one of the largest installations in the world traded for only my second job ever and the responsibility of managing the work flow of 50 Associates. My peers and former subordinates would balk at the assertion that I could be challenged and even overwhelmed by my responsibilities, but I absolutely have. I have joined the business A-team and discomfort and the pressure to perform, innovate and improve are a way of life.
I quickly discovered that Amazon is a crucible of leadership and production. Just a few short weeks ago not only did people call me Sir, but they stood when I entered a room. Rank and position were what they responded to predominantly although I would hope that at some point I earned their respect. As a manager at Amazon respect is earned through daily interaction, bridging Associate issues referred to as barriers with viable solutions and lots of good old fashioned sweat. Every day is different, presents unique challenges and requires me to be both adaptive and thoughtful. I would be remiss if I did not highlight that I absolutely love it.
One thing that has probably contributed to the positive adjustment is that I went from one strong culture in the Army to another strong culture in Amazon. Ways of doing things, idiosyncrasies and even rules are not foreign to me so the transition has been relatively seamless. One thing that I have found though is that Amazon likes its managers to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Metrics that are just beyond reach, self and group scrutiny and daily competition using measurable analytics are just a few ways that you are tested.
I have always thought that comfort is overrated. That’s good because the magic of Amazon takes place at the edges of your comfort zone. It’s even more appropriate considering that the company’s mantra is that it is Day 1 every day. The butterflies that I get when I walk into the facility rivals first day at school nerves, deployment day jitters and the sight of Aces in the big blind. Excuse the deep poker reference, but if you play and know what I am talking about that feeling is the addictive adrenaline rush working in this company has given me.
What’s important about a company that lives in Day 1 is that you find that it is alright to fail. Amazon knows that failure teaches valuable lessons. It’s a lesson that Amazon has learned over and over as it has gone from a start-up ecommerce book company to one of the largest and most innovative companies in the world. Food, movies, kitchenware, car parts and a seemingly infinite number of items…including books can be found at Amazon. This tomorrow is another day institutional blindness to failure was extremely hard to grasp considering that in the Army failure could very often mean lives, but Amazon sees it as an opportunity to grow and focuses on the why at short meetings called Syncs where managers dissect an analyze how to get better. The lesson is that success doesn’t happen to the perfect or the one that doesn’t make mistakes; it is borne out of risking and learning from failure which is an absolute part of the process.
Getting better is also an essential part of succeeding at Amazon. I learned over a long military career that there are both reasons and results. We have all found ourselves in a position where we have had to explain why we did not accomplish a task or meet a metric. This introspective deep dive into the why is a daily occurrence at Amazon and is meant to help not only the organization, but all teams achieve the results outlined for the day and more importantly be successful tomorrow.
The more pragmatic consequences of my first month at Amazon have included a cool eight pound weight loss, sore feet and the loss of the umbilical cord of an Army work phone that I have carried for almost two decades. Although additional work at home is not required I have found myself analyzing numbers, looking for ways to better support the Associates on my team and combing through the endless data and internal pages of this chameleon of a company. Old habits die hard so I still rise early and arrive before shift to conduct my inspections to ensure that we have the best chance to succeed or at least fail less than we would have otherwise. It’s Day 1 at Amazon and I can’t wait for my chance to get better.