Women leaders are known to disrupt markets and make waves while being amazing role models and motivators. Companies today trust women to play their roles in the best of their ability and women too are not shying away from duly asking for their work rights and freedom to exercise those rights, when need arises. At Amazon, we believe that every employee should build their own career path and explore the multitude of possibilities available to them to build their future.
We spoke at length with the Head of Operations, Meera Narayanan who is leading a team of 7000 employees across India, travelling extensively to meet global teams and feeling gainfully employed while working from home.
What was that moment where you felt – joining Amazon was the right decision?
I will answer this question by breaking it down into three parameters – recruitment, retention and development.
From a recruitment stand point she says, “I have a team of 7000 members but it is not the headcount that is complex, but my team services seven core market places in 10 languages across seven sites and this in itself is a clear testament to how inclusivity and diversity friendly the organisation is. For a role as critical as this I was hired as a virtual candidate and that gave me a huge moral boost and this earned the organisation my trust.”
“Amazon as an organisation is an empowering ecosystem.”
“I got to work outside my area of work and this motivates me a lot.”
I sit out of India and within 15 months of me joining I was provided with an opportunity to lead a significant global mechanism beyond my direct sphere of work. At a global level, I lead the Organization Health mechanism for my wider organization. This mechanism highlights key insights and hotspots around org health metrics, outlines scaling challenges and articulates way forward to ‘cultivate org health review culture’ for a sustained impact.
How are you available to your India team, whilst working virtually?
I have always loved being around people and this is the first time I have opted to work from home. But I did realise that I needed to invest in understanding and being with my team. In my initial days I travelled extensively to build and establish great working relationships with my team for I knew once I invest in my professional relationship, ways of working would be easier. I also set up mechanisms to be virtually present and I also encouraged video meetings. Until date I follow this and I must tell you that the whole team is extremely accepting and supportive of the mechanism.
What are the major challenges you face because of being virtually present?
Over my years of experience I have learnt that it is important to have a voice, and ensure that your voice is heard. Being virtually present one does realise that it is tough to have your voice heard across and that was my biggest challenge. I knew that I had to find ways to spend time with my team such as being present in every team offsite etc. But that came with its own set of challenges, with me having to travel extensively to both international and domestic locations. However, at Amazon we value individual expression and we work together to create a culture where each of us is able to contribute fully. Another great example of inclusivity is that over a period of time we evolved our mechanism to move away from Seattle based monthly meetings and quarterly off sites to covering all countries and continents on rotation. We decided to have meetings at UK, India and Seattle. This saved a lot of travel time for me while of course having the chance to visit multiple Amazon offices at different locations.
“ We value individual expression and we work together to create a culture where each of us is able to contribute fully.”
I realised that if I am present at one of the sites it is easy for people to simply walk into my office and have a quick chat but it is not the same while being virtually present. I also learnt that some of my team members needed constant motivation and appreciation and I invested my time to ensure I was always available for my team. I also ensured that I often make either a video call or a voice call to my team members, even for five minutes, to touch base with them and understand how they are doing.
What is your advice to peers or working women?
Amazon as an organisation is an empowering ecosystem. Not many have this empowerment to be brave about making mistakes as long as they are learning from it.
Women perhaps are restricting themselves in fear of failure but I suggest that each one of us has the ability to go out there, believe in our gut and make new mistakes. I really like the concept of two-way door at Amazon as it empowers you, allows you to learn and to grow from your mistakes.
What is the principle element that guides you to love working at Amazon?
I would say what stands out for me about Amazon is the fact that we are very strong on mechanisms. We are very particular about the streamlined ways of working and our overall obsession with customers, putting customers at the heart of everything we do is extremely powerful. We are great at bringing our leadership principles to life. Substance over style and diversity of people that we hire enable us to serve a diverse customer base across the globe.
What about your family? What do they think of you joining and heading this position at Amazon?
Me joining Amazon has certainly influenced those around me as well. For instance, never before has my husband discussed his professional road blocks with me. Ever since I joined Amazon He enjoys discussing his professional life a lot more and he is also curious to know how I would deal with similar situations at Amazon. My friends and relatives seek my professional advice when they experience challenges and roadblocks. That is the sheer power of working for an amazing global organization like Amazon!
When not at work, what interests you?
I have been trained in Carnatic music for 13 years and am a movie buff and Bollywood fanatic, so much so that I don't miss a single movie over weekends! I work very closely with NGOs especially cancer foundation groups. I am empathetic towards the transgender community and whenever I spot them at traffic signals, begging, I always offer to have a meal with them and spend time with them.