While undeniably a tech company, Amazon was built on an old-school premise: Focus on things that don’t change.
Including what you expect from your employees.
Start with what Bezos once said about focusing on customer preferences that won’t change:
In our retail business, we know that customers want low prices. They want fast delivery. They want vast selection.
We know the energy we put into (those things) today will still be paying dividends for our customers ten years from now.
When you have something that you know is true, (especially) over the long term, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it.
Then layer in the first job ad Bezos posted in 1994 for a company he had yet to decide would be called Amazon.
Notice the second sentence: “You must have experience designing and building large and complex (yet maintainable) systems, and you should be able to do so in about one-third the time that most competent people think possible.”
Yep: Even then, Bezos cared about speed and efficiency. Not just of the customer order process. And just the timeliness of package deliveries.
But also — long before any of those customer-facing tasks became crucial — of employee task deliverables.
Granted, that relentless — even, according to some, ruthless — pursuit of speed isn’t for everyone.
But at least he was honest about it. If you applied for the developer job, you knew what you were getting into: Clearly the expectations were high.
You also knew there might be a long-term reward. While no one could have predicted that the company-that-didn’t-yet-have-a-name would become Amazon, still: “Meaningful” equity ownership indicated high expectations came from a place of “we’re (at least partly) in this together.”
And you could expect to be surrounded by like-minded people. The line, “Expect talented, motivated, intense, and interesting co-workers,” foreshadowed Bezos’s perspective on hiring.
In his 1998 shareholder letter, Bezos wrote:
Setting the bar high in our approach to hiring has been, and will continue to be, the single most important element of Amazon.com’s success.
The bar has to continuously go up. I ask people to visualize the company five years from now. At that point, each of us should look around and say, ‘The standards are so high now — boy, I’m glad I got in when I did!’
To Bezos, speed is everything, because speed never goes out of style.
Even where succession planning is concerned. In a move that came long before most would have predicted, Bezos just announced he will step down as CEO and transition to the Executive Chairman role.
As Bezos wrote in an email announcing the change, “Being the CEO of Amazon is a deep responsibility, and it’s consuming. When you have a responsibility like that, it’s hard to put attention on anything else.”
Taking on a new role will allow Bezos to spend more time on other initiatives like Blue Origin, the Day 1 Fund, and the Bezos Earth Fund.
Clearly the the “speed bar” will soon be raised in those organizations.
So yeah: Bezos cares deeply about speed. Speed of decision-making. Speed of execution. Speed of innovation and invention. Speed of learning from success as well as failure.
All of which one humble little job listing foreshadowed thirty-one years ago.
Like Bezos or not, he’s consistent. If you decided to work at Amazon, you knew what you were getting into. If you love high expectations, it was and is the place for you.
If that put or still puts some people off, fine: They weren’t and aren’t right for Amazon.
That’s the real lesson to be drawn from Amazon’s first job posting.
When you recruit new employees, be clear about who you are. Be clear about what you expect.
Especially if you’re building your business on fundamental leadership principles or a culture you never plan to change.