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How Amazon is built to try and learn

The pace of change continues to accelerate. That reality has led Amazon to prize and build a culture that experiments and learns

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The pace of change requires companies to continually learn and adapt. Beth Galetti, senior vice president of human resources at Amazon, describes how this reality has led Amazon to cultivate a culture of continuous learning and put in place the infrastructure to support it.

A culture of empowerment and continuous feedback

Our customers’ needs evolve and grow, so continuous learning is an imperative for all Amazonians. We capture this intent in our leadership principle, “Learn and Be Curious.” That principle is very important because we are frequently doing things that have never been done before. For this reason, there is often no playbook to teach nor experts to follow, so we empower people to try new things and learn along the way.

That philosophy of empowerment is reflected in the fact that we expect every employee to be an owner. If they see any issue that affects customer experience or have an idea about how to improve it, they’re expected to jump in, whether or not it’s in their area of expertise. We have a few awards to recognize this kind of behavior. One is called the “Just Do It” award. Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and CEO, presents the employee or team responsible for the improvement with a Nike shoe during one of our corporate all-hands meetings. This simple but meaningful recognition reinforces the culture of empowering employees to take care of problems.

We also want learning to be continuous, so we have a culture of real-time feedback. Feedback is shared directly with the intention of making everyone involved better at delivering the best for our customers. To help with this, we built Connections, a mechanism that asks every employee a question each day when they log in to their computer or workstation. The answers provide aggregated feedback to their manager, highlighting areas to improve and surfacing relevant learning assets (such as online training) that the manager can access immediately. Questions are posed on a wide range of topics, from work environment to the manager’s effectiveness, team dynamics, and, most importantly, any barriers that are getting in the way of employees inventing on behalf of customers.

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