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Lesson #4: Create a High Hiring Bar
“I’d rather interview 50 people and not hire anyone than hire the wrong person,” Bezos once told an Amazon.com colleague when the company was first starting up. It might not have been the company’s best use of resources, but Bezos was taking a long term perspective. “Cultures aren’t so much planned as they evolve from that early set of people,” he says. Once that culture is created, new employees either dislike it and leave or enjoy it and stay, but the culture itself doesn’t change. At Amazon, Bezos has made it one of his top priorities to create a “self-reinforcing” and “very stable” culture. That being said, Bezos stands out from his CEO counterparts in one major way: he thinks communication is “terrible”.
One day, Amazon was having an off-site retreat for its employees. Among the topics of discussion was the structure of the company and the channels of communication throughout the organization. When a general consensus among the workers was emerging that greater communication was needed within the company, Bezos stood up and proclaimed, “No, communication is terrible!” Needless to say, the announcement shocked the majority of those in attendance that day. However, it was a declaration that would go on to significantly shape the way Amazon was run.
Bezos wasn’t taking the time to hire the very best for the company so that everyone would have to check with each other before anything could get done. No, Bezos wanted a decentralized company, where small groups could innovate and pursue their visions independently of other groups. This idea led to Bezos’ “two-pizza teams”: if an entire group couldn’t be fed with just two pizzas, that group was far too large. Thus, within Amazon would be highly autonomous task forces limited to five to seven people – innovating to their hearts’ content, trying out new features, and dining on two pizzas. Because Bezos had implemented a high hiring bar, he knew he could rely on his employees to work independently and keep Amazon at the top of its game.
Underlying this strategy of a disentangled company was Bezos’ dislike of hierarchy. “For every leader in the company, not just for me, there are decisions that can be made by analysis,” he says. “These are the best kinds of decisions!” Bezos liked the idea that fact-based decisions could overrule any hierarchy within the company: “The most junior person in the company can win an argument with the most senior person with a fact-based decision.”
Bezos’ strategy of management might appear decidedly non-corporate, but by creating a high hiring bar, he was ensuring that his company would be well-equipped to handle the fluid nature with which he wanted Amazon to function.
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By: Evan Carmichael
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