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Three Pillars of Development

To say that this article has been hard to formulate and write would be an understatement. I am a month late with my blog and as I pen the article am still befuddled as to how I will conclude the piece. That said, intuitively we all know that development is essential to a company’s growth. Investing in employees, junior and senior leadership and creating an environment where priorities and objectives are reviewed, understood and challenged is a tenet of large organization structural development. Amazon addresses this imperative by challenging Associates and Managers to own their own development. Leadership principles like Learn and Be Curious, Ownership and Deep Dive and equally task worthy mantras like innovate highlight an onus to charge one’s own growth. This model has been extremely successful to date, but I am not sure if it is sustainable over time.

As hard as that was to say about what I believe is the best company in the world, bias intended, falls short of the consequence of me being right. Behemoth companies such as Target, Xerox, Kodak, Nokia and IBM all failed due in some part to the development of their company personnel and failure to innovate. My experience working 28 years with another large company, the United States Army, highlights that both institutional and self-development are essential to cultural and relevant survival. The primary difference between Amazon and the military is that the military has 100s of worldwide competitors that on any one day could prove themselves better, whereas, Amazon could confidently say that current day competition may be in the single digits - if they are being generous. But ask any of the close or even far competitors of the United States military why they have not achieved similar prominence and they will quickly highlight not the technological advances, educational advantages or money available; they will simply state our investment in leadership development from the youngest corporal to the most seasoned sergeant major and general is lacking in their country.

My counsel.  Owning your personal growth and development is essential, but organizational education and benchmarked development can add near term and intrinsic value that sustains and promotes culture at whatever level it is introduced. The military sees development in terms of legacy, the next generation and an investment in the future of the forces. For Amazon I would recommend a continuance of the own your own development self-paced model, but I would also add two more pillars to that model to ensure the long term stability and legacy of the company. The second pillar would be a more established local developmental program. And the third pillar would be a formalized institutional development program.

The fact is that these programs would not be a stretch for Amazon in that they exist in some way already. Whether through KNETS, computer-based training, or career choice seminars taught by facility leaders Amazon has a local development program that exists under other names. The point being that these programs often appear disjointed and lack synchronization would not be a surprise to the staunchest Amazon advocate. KNETS appear as requirements at odd times and often the career choice, Associate improvement programs, are an afterthought that may or may not touch the right candidate. As facilities have relatively flat architecture these programs could be used as incentives for hard work, achievement and future potential. The great thing about a formalized development program is that it gives both Associates and Managers a tool to use for exceptional work ethic. As a company Amazon is high on recognition, so introducing a development experience for a high performing employee could be a great addition to the current appreciation structure.

As much as local development would not be a stretch for Amazon, on the opposite end of the spectrum institutional development does not at present exist and would challenge the prevailing norm.  My big idea. Amazon needs an instructional facility, a so-called center for excellence, that aids the company with new equipment fielding, Associate and Manager training and above all Development. The facility could comprise a fully-functioning operations customer fulfillment platform that is run by high-performing associates and managers training for their next position. Classrooms could deep dive, discuss and then test the fielding of new equipment and software before it’s rolled out to field FCs. And development opportunities for associates and managers from around the world would allow benchmarking of high potential employees and potentially extend the longevity of exceptional Amazonians within the company. The Amazon Center for Excellence could be established in short order and provide instant impact to the FC operations environment within a very limited period of time. Whether a current, obsolete or new facility was converted to the Center much needed developmental opportunities could be offered to Associates and Managers soon after its establishment.

The beauty of Amazon is that it recognizes opportunity wherever it exists. From small to big innovations this company is always growing and reaching for new heights. My counsel is simple and as illustrated may not even be a stretch and that is to include the employee’s Development as part of the innovative advancements that Amazon is so famous for. Not the conclusion that I would have hoped for, but optimistically good enough to get my point across. I could probably use a writing course! It’s Day at Amazon and this blog is finally penned…!


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