The year since I took the uniform off after almost 30 years of service in the US Army has been eventful, rewarding and extremely enlightening. September 11, 2018 was the last day that I suited up for the country and just six days later I found myself seated with some of the Nation’s brightest young minds at an Amazon orientation just north of Nashville. The immersive nature of this great company has taught me many things about business, the community that I served for so long and myself. This short article is my effort to share a few of those experiences.
The Military Pathways Program of which I am a member commits to giving invaluable time and opportunity to its participants. My first responsibility in this program was to lead a 60-person team of pickers, counters and stowers called Associates through the company’s busiest period, Peak (the holiday season from Black Friday after Thanksgiving through the New Year). Seemingly this would have been a piece of cake for a retired officer who at times had lead thousands of Service Members, but you have never been humbled until an Associate in no uncertain terms tells you that you are not doing your job. In fact Amazon has a way introducing situations that are humbling. Stretch opportunities where you have the chance to share lessons and improve processes meant to both develop you as a manager and advance the company are not uncommon. Team management was just one of many that generated personal growth over the year.
As different as Amazon is from the Army there are many similarities. Management, benchmarking best practices, establishment of operating procedures and the one that I continue to find rewarding, mentorship. Although it did take me a bit of time to find my voice namely because of the difficulty mastering the technical side of the job I have made my way back to old steadies like lead by example, remaining positive and connecting on a deeper level and most importantly mentorship. Sharing experiences, finding common ground to impart lessons learned and providing a sympathetic ear to new and junior managers has been a welcomed commonality between Amazon and the Army. Two key experiences provided mentorship opportunities that I totally treasure. The first is an amazing fellow manager, Steven Ritch, and I established the Operational Integration Program to introduce new managers to their responsibilities, and the second was that I was given direct charge of several Area managers and an entire shift. To say that I welcomed the opportunity to manage and mentor junior leaders would be an understatement - it has been a blast.
My most recent responsibility directly following Peak was to lead an entire process and a shift of Amazonians as mentioned above. This shift basically gave me charge of half the warehouse and coordination responsibility for the other half of the warehouse. The crucible event that I immediately prepared for was Prime Week. I am proud to say that this Prime was one of the most successful Amazon periods ever. Leading this shift has also been one of my most challenging experiences at Amazon. Focusing on the quality and productivity of an entire process and building is much different than doing so for 60 Associates. Delegation probably is the most transferable military skill in my new position. Sharing a higher level requirement with a subordinate and watching them improve on established processes is very gratifying. I have also learned that through delegation and mentorship that you can prepare managers for their next level of responsibility, boost confidence and indirectly assist with retention. Seeing managers on my shift grow and excel has been extremely rewarding.
This year in review would not be complete without sharing my most valuable lessons. Lessons like Associates and managers that you have the hardest time connecting with you should spend the most time nurturing relationships with…this may seem counter intuitive, but the investment in these relationships can bear fruit and honesty that you absolutely need on your shift. Another lesson is that opportunities and knowledge gaps are not roadblocks to being successful at Amazon…as long as you are curious and willing to deep dive those opportunities you can absolutely continue to excel. But my biggest lesson and probably one of the most valuable life lessons that I have learned is that the way you win is absolutely more important than if you win. The ins and outs of this mantra can contain an article in and of itself and is mostly an inside requirement for my team and I than an Amazon obligation, but I have found it to be an essential part of my own personal code of conduct. It has guided decisions, broken ties and has been the umbrella that has kept the sun out of our eyes and rain out of our hair. Simply stated Amazon is absolutely a business where doing what’s right is important.
In a company that I have seen grow from 400k when I joined last year to 730k as I pen this article I have learned that Amazon is not for everyone and that is 100% ok. I have seen Associates, managers and contractors leave for other prospects and I have met 20+ year Amazonians that are driven by this ever-changing behemoth of a company. As I humbly celebrate my 1 year anniversary I commit myself to improving every day and to leaving this company better than I found it. Here is to another year and hopefully many more…!