Before you assume the world’s most disruptive and innovative companies move with lightning speed, ask Jeffrey Kratz about the press release that took nearly eight months to complete.
The general manager of Latin America, Canada and Caribbean Regions for Amazon Web Services (AWS) was speaking at the Toronto Global Forum on Monday about how the cloud-based online giant tries to promote innovation and entrepreneurship across its more than 600,000 employees. While he admitted a great deal of direction is provided directly by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Kratz said those on the AWS team and beyond are given a lot of autonomy — which they take incredibly seriously.
Amazon likes to delegate work to what he called “two-pizza” teams, for example, which might be pairs or small teams of employees versus a larger one. That means a greater ability to operate both locally and globally, and to try out everything they’re building for customers themselves. This all ties back into Amazon’s mission to be the world’s most customer-centric company, he added.
When it comes time to market and promote what gets built, however, Kratz said attention to detail is critical, adding that AWS and other parts of Amazon often create FAQs or even comic book-style storyboards to make sure customers understand what the company is doing. The time devoted to more traditional marketing and communication assets is even more methodical.
“Press releases are filled with internal jargon,” he pointed out. “We take a look at every single word and ask, ‘Is that clear to the customer?’ I remember one press release that took almost eight months,” he recalled. “At the end of the day, it was a project that needed a broader group (to weigh in), but if you can get that (kind of communication) precise, the execution becomes much more rapid.”
That said, Kratz alluded to 14 leadership principles that influence decision making across AWS and Amazon — including “drive results,” “dive deep” and “vocally self-critical” — that sometimes require the disruptive firm to keep moving even in the face of negative customer feedback.
“It’s okay to be misunderstood for a period of time,” he said. “As long as you’re maintaining that customer focus . . . it takes patience and tenacity.”
This thinking not only drives what happens in Amazon today but how the company hires and evaluates employee performance, Kratz added. Upon being hired, every single new recruit is given a card with a list of key questions: “Who is the customer? Is the most important customer benefit clear? How do you know what customers need or want? What does the customer experience look like?”
“In a disruptive time . . . these questions can be applied everywhere,” Kratz said, adding that the process of asking and answering such questions has to be continuous.
“The wonderful and beautiful thing about customers is that they’re never completely satisfied,” he said. “Even the ones that loved the Kindle said, ‘I love it, but . . .’”
The Toronto Global Forum runs through Wednesday.