Three Lessons for General Managers from an Amazon Military Pathways Graduate
This article highlights three lessons from my most recent promotion and is interestingly enough the first position that parallels my most prominent experience from the military. The Amazon Military Pathways program has given me the opportunity to develop a mature and advanced understanding of operational leadership. I have now worked at every level of operations management from Area Manager, Operations Manager, Senior Operations Manager, Assistant General Manager, Site Lead and to now General Manager. The business and management perspective that I gained during these experiences provided me with an invaluable on the job education, and was very necessary in my development as a General Manager despite the initial misgivings that friends and fellow Service Members had.
Some would say that I sacrificed four years to get to the same point that I left off at when I retired from the military. That observation would ignore my development as a business leader and the deeper operational understanding that I gained over time. This thought process and lack of foresight is indicative of the complexities of military transition and often contributes the eventual attrition of highly recruited Service Members. The lessons that I’ve learned post my last Amazon promotion are informed by both my service and time as a Pathways. Three lessons for future GMs: 1. The honeymoon phase can last as long you make it. 2. Protect your vision with your steel fracture-proof mechanisms. 3. Elevate your understanding of success, and benchmark against the best.
I would challenge all new GMs to fight to extend the honeymoon stage of their appointment. The establishment and continued support of a mission and vision, the increased associate-facing communication and the creative development of site initiatives are all programs that you can refresh and continue to reinforce on a regular basis. The key is an infectious desire to improve the experience of everyone that you work for. Ask yourselves what did you do or plan today for the benefit of the site. Do all associates know the motto, site initiatives or department goals? And what do you have in place to ensure the continued reinforcement of your direction? A way that I have done this at my site is that I have printed a huge fast sign sticker and placed it on the floor near the entrance – it is called the “GM Circle”. It is literally where I go during breaks and shift changes to regularly chat with associates and to talk about site initiatives and the facility’s direction.
Protect your vision. The enthusiasm that you have for your vision on day one as a GM is what will give your managers and associates hope and energy on day sixty if you continue to be enthusiastic about it. Highlight the mission and motto with mechanisms that are well-known and supported. Ensure that the site cadence includes touch points that allow you to share your intent with both broad and singular audiences. One on ones, roundtables, floor walks and meetings are all great places to underscore the path that you are undertaking. Make comprehensive gestures to cement particular aspects that the plan. A way to do this is by visually illustrating aspects the strategy to create a buzz to help integrate changes or planned updates into the site’s culture. Murals, acid feeds and white boards are great ways to put this into action.
The final lesson is an Amazon staple; benchmarking against the best or other high-performing organizations. Take this aspect to another level and reach out to the sites to see exactly what they are doing different to get the most out of their performance. This initial communication can often turn into a lasting partnership that could help both teams improve. We have gone as far as to conduct site visits and to host other sites to deep dive mechanisms and ways to get better.
Congratulations if you are using this article in advance of your promotion to General Manager at Amazon to make your site just a little bit better. If you are already a GM and there is a touch point or two that resonated with you then I am glad of that also. The key thing is that you realize that you absolutely provide the azimuth for your site or organization. The efforts that you take and the energy that you impart to make your team better can be extremely rewarding. Have fun with it and do everything that you can to bring your team on the ride with you.
Lee Flemming is a retired Army Colonel currently working at Austin 2 (AUS2) Fulfillment Center in Pflugerville, Texas as the Site Lead. Lee is a 28-year Army Veteran with extensive operations and management experience. The Boots2Amazon series includes regular installments meant to inform and educate Service Members and the public about life after the military and transitioning into employment at Amazon.