Over the past 21 years, Meera Narayanan - Director, Amazon Stores Talent Acquisition, APAC & MENA has worked across diverse industries in different geographies worldwide, such as Telecom & Media, Utilities, and Financial Services. She joined Amazon a little over five years ago and has worked remotely since Day 1. In this interview, we get to know about her journey at Amazon and discover more about the Amazon culture even as she offers career advice for aspiring Amazonians.
Meera’s Amazon experience
I joined Amazon in 2017, as Head of Selling Partner Support (SPS) Operations in India, and within 3 years, I had the privilege of growing into the position of Director, India Operations – SPS, and leading a team of 7,000+ Amazonians across India, supporting Amazon Sellers in multiple countries and multiple languages.
Earlier this year, I got the opportunity to spearhead the Talent Acquisition organisation, and in my current role, and I lead a 400+ member team. Together, we raise the bar in sourcing the best talent for Amazon.
My time at Amazon has been nothing short of amazing. My journey has been rewarding, humbling, rich in experiences, and full of learnings. Joining Amazon was one of my best decisions ever as the peculiarities, the way we live and breathe our Leadership Principles, our Day 1 culture, and our relentless focus on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) have helped me become more aware. I have learned, unlearned and evolved as a leader.
Top tip for leaders
The first is to lead through Amazon Leadership Principles (LP) on a day-to-day basis. As Amazonians, we live and breathe these LPs in our daily decision-making. I almost use them as tenets for decision-making. They are guardrails to how we in Amazon do business, lead as leaders, and keep the customer at the heart of everything we do. And the second is that you can’t be everywhere at all the time, so scale yourself in such a way that your team can take high-quality, high-velocity decisions even when you are not in the room.
Driving high performance
You can drive high performance by i) Building a clear vision for yourself and your teams ii) Building an organisation of owners iii) Prioritising relentlessly while keeping the bar high and iv) Creating conditions for calculated risk-taking as you can’t do anything if you are afraid of taking risks and making bold bets.
It’s always Day 1 at Amazon
We have 16 Leadership Principles and the first is Customer Obsession. “Leaders start with the customer and work backwards,” it states. “They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.” This is at the heart of what is known at Amazon as a Day 1 mentality. We put the customer at the center of everything we do at Amazon. We strive to understand our customers and work backwards from their pain points to develop innovative solutions. Day 1 is about constantly questioning oneself, being curious, and being brave enough to learn from our failures.
Day 2 signals in any team
There are many signals of Day 2 mentality for a growing organisation , because growth does naturally bring in a level of complexity. Some of the common ones are being less innovative, inwardly-focused, and not customer-obsessed. For example, if you and your team spend too much time on maintenance, governance, and inspection of goals rather than creating new things, that’s a red flag. Another one to watch out for is, fragmentation of the customer experience where you are not fully immersed into all aspects and elements of the customer and their experience end-to-end. You are lost in the goals without a clear view and insight of the customer journey . Slow decision-making, unclear decision rights, leaders micromanaging everything… these are things that must change.
Advice for growth in an organisation
Cut the clutter and prioritise relentlessly for better work-life harmony. Build a culture of force multiplication to scale yourself as a leader, so people around you are able to drive high-quality, high-velocity decision-making when you are not in the room. You cannot be everywhere doing everything. It is important for you to exercise the choices you have.
You are the custodians of your careers—take charge. Have your own voice, speak up and reach out for help. When in doubt, always lead through your LPs. Be fearless to fail and learn from it. Be willing to experiment and have a curious mindset that will help you navigate tough times. Converging these will be our competitive advantage for growth. Enjoy and be authentically obsessed with what you do. Growth is an output that will come if you focus on the right inputs.
Tough choices that leaders make
As Jeff Bezos says, leaders must be willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time because you are invested in the long-term success and development of your people and not short-term popularity. Also, it’s important to have a way to deal with your unconscious bias and make a conscious effort to interrupt it. Finally, challenge your perceptions; ask questions rather than making assumptions.
Tips for aspiring Amazonians
At Amazon, we don’t think skills-forward; we think customers-backward. So, besides academic qualifications, we look for smart, flexible, and customer-obsessed candidates who can play a significant role in raising the bar.
We look for people who think differently and analytically, question assumptions, and are inclined toward building new things to create a gratifying experience for our customers. Most importantly, we like people who learn from their failures instead of those who try to white-wash it. So, bring in your complete self to an Amazon interview. Tell us your story, give us all the details and yes, back it up with data.