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Peak: Hard Won Scars and Lessons from Amazon’s Busiest Period

The ability to get better after experiencing difficulty and adversity is like building muscle. The more you are tested and the more you are challenged the better you are at using the strength gained through those experiences. Amazon’s Peak is just that; a series of tests, compulsory events and customer-driven requirements that start the day after Thanksgiving (Black Friday), go through Cyber Monday and do not end until Christmas Eve. This account captures a few lessons from 2018’s Peak.

Peak is Amazon’s all-in commitment to customer obsession and the fulfillment of a billion worldwide orders. The military brands comparable tests of organizational effort that are universally understood as grueling examinations of those fortunate enough to participate as Capstone or Crucible events. The sheer prospect of a scheduled so-called Capstone or Crucible exercise consumes formations for months. Peaks at Amazon are such an indelible part of the company that employees measure their time at Amazon by the number of Peaks that they have experienced versus years of employment. Peak is simply a digital inferno where all from the most senior manager to the most junior associate are expected to execute and deliver the results that Amazon is famous for regardless of the required hours, facility strain and breath-taking volume.

Amazon does not have a lock on working through the holiday season, in fact there are thousands of deployed Service Members, countless retail establishments and numerous other holiday service providers, but Amazon more than any other company or organization is absolutely expected to deliver Christmas. The pressure of Peak is borne of this responsibility and is my first lesson: do not stow, pick or pack anything that you would not want your own son or daughter to unwrap. That toy or gift could be the only present that a parent could afford and they trusted Amazon to convey it for their family. I saw this type of out-right customer obsession play out countless times as an exhausted Stower or tired Picker made split second decisions that would secure Christmas for someone. And the pride that I felt was not a whole lot different than when one of my Soldiers shot a perfect score or maxed their physical fitness test. I truly think that excellence should be rewarded and admired regardless of job or profession.

Although productivity requirements increase substantially during Peak it’s only a single data point on the spectrum of challenges. Personally, sustaining an engaged “switched-on” demeanor in light of exhaustion and an unrelenting work schedule is elevated as an essential lesson. It has been a few weeks since Peak ended and I can honestly say that I was still recovering from the sheer physical and mental effort required to excel as a manager a week after Christmas. As with many organizations where the manager goes so go the employees and Associates that that manager charges. A slow morning, lethargic start or “bad day” will often translate to poor Associate performance that will put production objectives at risk. Approaching each day as if it were Day 1 with all the vigor and energy that comes with kicking the tires of a new car is what is required and rightfully expected to ensure that our customer promise is never broken.

The final lesson from this year’s Peak that I will document is that recognition and taking the time to say thank you can go much further than you can imagine. I guess I intuitively knew that considering my military career and the appreciation that Service Members show for a tiny piece of ribbon that they can display on their uniform. Associates at Amazon are much the same and simply want to be recognized for exhibiting excellence in their path. I saw extremely creative ways to reward exceptional performance and was in awe at the dedication of fellow managers and process assistants to ensure that Associates on their teams remained motivated with both simple and complex incentives.

In the end Peak made me better. I became a better and more patient leader for my team. I grew exponentially with the company that has made a place for this old Soldier and I hoped that I contributed to countless happy Christmas’. To be tested, challenged and retested is a significant part of experiencing and working through an Amazon Peak Season. To become more efficient for and add value to the customers that mean so much to the company was easily the best lesson of all.

Lest I forget, Good shoes and possibly even Great shoes (if there is such a thing) are a must. The miles!! I promised Lessons and Scars. My feet are still killing me…!


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