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May 2017

Amazon’s Accessibility Awareness Month

OpenAmazon is known to be customer-obsessed. Part of that obsession is ensuring that we optimize our work for accessibility.

According to research from the World Bank, fifteen percent of the world’s population lives with some kind of disability – that’s one billion people. At Amazon, we look for ways to make it easier for people to engage with us, across all of our businesses. This past month has been Accessibility Awareness Month at Amazon, packed full of events to help employees learn more about accessibility, integrate good practices into their work and collaborate across organizational boundaries with the goal of improving accessibility.

A few of the many events that took place this past month include:

  • An accessibility bug hunt, where all employees were challenged to find and report accessibility bugs
  • A session reviewing research on shopping for people with vision impairment. This presentation included key take-aways from shop-along exercises plus videos and sound bytes from customers.
  • Training on accessible design best practices
  • An empathy lab where employees could learn how our web pages are experienced by customers with vision impairments, or what it feels like to navigate Amazon.com (or a particular page or feature) when you can’t grip a mouse
  • A session with Twitch on making gaming more accessible and inclusive
  • Podcasts with business leaders discussing accessible design and accessibility for Amazon employees

In-person events took place in Seattle as well as a host of other Amazon office locations including Sunnyvale, Boston and London. Most also offered livestreaming and on-demand access for our colleagues around the globe.

What’s been particularly interesting for me to see this past month is the intersection of accessibility and customer obsession. Many companies focus on accessibility because it’s the right thing to do, as they should and as does Amazon. But there is a certain diligence and structure that surrounds it when you are such a customer-obsessed company. It’s not an extra thing you do; it’s an important part of your job. And there is great interest in it internally when you hire so many people that are really passionate about doing the right thing for customers; all customers.


Jeanne Skinner: Recruiters at Amazon are advocates for your candidacy

Jeanne SkinnerEditors note: I'm excited to welcome another blogger to the Amazonian Blog. Jeanne Skinner is a leadership recruiter for Amazon and she is a straight talker when it comes to job search advice. So she will be sharing all kinds of interesting information on finding and getting your dream job. Here's Jeanne...

When you are considering a career change,  you may think of a recruiter as just a person you have to speak with in order for your resume to be seen by the hiring manager (the person with whom you really want to engage).  What you may not realize is that your recruiter is actually the person who has to make the first judgement call on your candidacy, evaluating your fit with Amazon’s culture and Leadership Principles, and deciding if you are someone we might want to be part of our company. In fact, this assessment is equally (if not more) important than skills evaluation.  If you are adaptable, intelligent and interested in learning, we can teach you a lot of what you will need to know to be successful at Amazon. Every time we decide whether to present a candidate to our leaders, we are deciding whether we as recruiters are willing to attach to our own professional reputation to your candidacy.  It’s my job to know the difference between someone who has a very specific set of skills and someone who will be successful at Amazon long term.  Recruiters take that responsibility seriously.

As a job seeker, we want you to show us recruiters why we should invest our own internal reputation capital on marketing you, your background and your capabilities to our leadership team. No recruiter wants to advocate for a candidate that demonstrates a dismissive attitude toward them, though we encounter this attitude from candidates from time to time.  Doing so causes us to damage internal relationships and lose credibility with our very smart and demanding hiring teams. Everything I do as just your recruiter has a direct reflection of my own hiring legacy - the mark I make on the success of our business.  The opportunity cost of hiring the wrong person has a huge impact on our company and the productivity of the organization that hire was made into.  We are not just recruiters.  We are brokers of talent and opportunity.  How you present yourself to our hiring teams during the recruiting process is a direct reflection of us. 

What can you do to get off on the right foot with your recruiter? Before you get on the phone with us, take the time to look at your recruiter’s LinkedIn profile.  You may find that we are highly educated, have held VP level roles in large, publicly held companies and many of us have been business owners.  We are hired for our ability to understand human dynamics, to detect critical business skills and personality traits that are a cultural fit for our team (like a passion for building).  Provide concrete examples of how you have groomed your teams in the past for promotion.  Illustrate your obsession over customers and why they are the purpose of your work.  Show me your data driven and entrepreneurial DNA.  That will get me excited about sharing your background with the businesses I support.

When we speak on the phone, answer our questions as you would to a hiring manager, with the same level of respect and detail.  Please don’t take my call while on your walk to Starbucks; it’s impolite and it’s not likely that your resume will go very far if you do.  Treat our initial dialogue the way you would any other important business meeting. 

 


Amazon and our local community

Marty_John._V509611493_
Marty Hartman receives a key to Mary's Place's future home on Amazon's campus

Last spring, I shared about the work we are doing with Mary’s Place, providing housing to homeless families in a building that was previously a Travelodge. Amazon had purchased the land the building sat on and put the building to good use while plans were being made to develop the property.

As it turns out, those plans involve a permanent spot for Mary’s Place. Amazon is donating 47,000 square feet of space inside the building that will occupy the city block at 7th and Bell, in the Denny Triangle area of Seattle. Sure, it’s an unusual arrangement, to partner with an organization to provide shelter for 200 women, children and families right on our campus. There’s a lot of excitement here for this opportunity.

While construction is underway, Mary’s Place residents will be temporarily be moved to another vacant hotel across the street. The planned opening date for Amazon’s new building is in 2020. You can read more about our plans here.

There have been other plans made recently to integrate Amazon into the local community through partnerships. Back in February, we announced a partnership with Farestart, including plans to donate equipment and 25,000 square feet of space on our campus to help them launch an apprentice program.

What’s exciting to me about both of these announced opportunities is that the organizations and the people they support will be part of our campus environment, part of the same community. Having worked previously on a suburban corporate campus (beautiful soccer fields and all), I can tell you that there is a different energy when your campus is in an urban neighborhood; you are more a part of it.  Programs like these give you a connection to your community that you don’t get in other environments. It’s exciting to be a part of it.


Day One for plants in the Amazon Spheres

Greenhouse
Last week, students toured our greenhouse and learned from our horticulture team

Anyone who commutes into or through downtown Seattle is familiar with a construction project that I hope will one day become an icon in Seattle’s architectural landscape: Amazon’s spheres. Over the last few years, our horticulture team has been busy curating and nurturing our diverse plant collection that will go inside. And yesterday marked a milestone for the team and for all of the Amazonians who will soon have access to the spheres; we planted our first plant, an Australian Tree Fern.

Eventually, over 40,000 plants will call the spheres home, where they will enjoy a climate-controlled environment that replicates natural cycles and creates an ideal environment for these plants to thrive. It’s also a place for employees to thrive. Research shows that creativity flourishes when humans experience a connection with nature. Our spheres bring that connection opportunity right into the core of our campus environment.

Here’s a short video explaining the thinking behind the spheres.

You can keep up with all things sphere-related by following our progress on Instagram @SeattleSpheres.

And links to local press coverage here:

Geekwire story on the spheres and Amazon’s first fern

Q13’s look inside spheres

KUOW on the plant life inside the spheres

Lots of photos of yesterday’s event from Seattle PI


Understanding Amazon’s flywheel

Anyone who has worked at Amazon for more than a couple weeks has heard the term “flywheel”. In fact, I suspect that many, if not most, people who interview here discuss the flywheel as part of their onsite interviews. So getting your head around Amazon’s concept of the “virtuous cycle” prior to interviews here is a good idea; I recommend researching it as part of your preparation process, not only to understand the idea of the flywheel but also to be able to articulate how your potential work at Amazon (and/or the work of the group you are interviewing with would contribute to spinning it.

The concept says a lot about how Amazon thinks about investment opportunities and why we are growing so quickly. Along with the Leadership Principles, I think it makes very clear how Amazon operates day-to-day. So I thought I would help explain the flywheel a little bit here to introduce the concept.

A flywheel is a system where each of the components is an accelerator. Invest in any one of the components and, as the flywheel spins, it benefits all components. And the flywheel spinning is how the system grows. Jim Collins popularized the flywheel concept in Good to Great. I’ll drop a link to his writing on flywheels at the bottom of this post.

Here’s Amazon’s flywheel:
Amazon Flywheel

I think seeing the image helps put Amazon’s customer obsession in context too. Because you can understand the different levers that ultimately lead to great experiences for customers and how all of us Amazonians are all part of it. If we do work that brings more traffic to Amazon.com, we’ll attract more sellers wanting to reach this larger number of potential customers. Attracting more sellers increases our selection, which improves the customer experience. This brings more traffic to Amazon.com. You can see how focusing attention on any of these components – traffic, sellers, selection or customer experience – distributes more energy to all of them. The whole system grows.

Then, as a result of the spinning, we are able to lower our cost structure which allows us to lower prices, also enhancing the customer experience. So the flywheel spins even faster as it grows; the growth itself is an accelerator. This is how Amazon went from a garage to the company you know today in a relatively short period of time.

Here are some links to additional content that will help you learn more about flywheels in general and how the concept applies to Amazon’s business in particular.

Inc. Magazine does a good job of explaining the flywheel concept

Steve Rosenbaum on how Jeff Bezos leads from behind

Jim Collins’ articles on the flywheel