Kamal Suri has been working with Amazon India for the past five years. He started as a catalogue manager, heading a small team, servicing one of Amazon's markets in Europe; today, as the operations manager, he manages a large team and services the entire Europe region. It's been a steady ascent, akin to what most hardworking people experience in a company offering a conducive growth environment. But for Suri, it's much more than just rewarding. "It's like owning a start-up. There is complete freedom to work and innovate."
His colleague Anuj Berry, too, like many other employees of Amazon, is pleased with the way his career graph is moving. Berry is involved with Launchpad, Amazon's platform to help start-ups succeed on the platform. This is completely different from his first role at Amazon, when he joined last year, in which he looked after transportation and logistics. Smooth internal transfer mechanisms and opportunities for global mobility are just some of the reasons why Amazon is the third best company to work for in India.
Business Today met with several employees of Amazon at its Bengaluru office in Mahadevpura. Each of them had unique experiences to share and had varied motivations for coming to work every Monday morning which was a far cry from certain media reports that portray the e-commerce company as a 'merciless taskmaster'. Deepti Varma, Director, HR, Amazon India, was quick to dismiss that tag. "As an individual, I do not agree with that statement at all. As a woman with multiple responsibilities, both on the personal and professional fronts, I feel that the organisation has given me a lot of flexibility to do things and to take up challenging assignments."
She goes on to add that Amazon's Founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, insists on measuring employee experience and engagement on a continuous basis. "That is why, unlike many other companies where you have a climate survey rolled out once a year, we had to have something more proactive; and that is how Connections was launched," Varma adds.
Deepti Varma Director, HR, Amazon India
Launched in 2017, Connections is a daily pulse survey for Amazon employees across the world to decipher factors that influence their day-to-day experience at the company. Here is how it works: When an Amazon employee opens his/ her laptop in the morning anywhere in the world, a multiple choice question pops up on the screen. The employee is expected to answer - takes a few seconds - unless there is an emergency, in which case the system throws up the question without fail at a chosen time later.
There is apparently a lot of research that goes into every question. The morning we spoke to Varma, her computer had asked if she is able to 'take challenging and risky decisions at the workplace'. Her answer, instinctively, was 'Strongly Agree'.
The A Team
India is a key market for the business conglomerate. "India is the largest international base outside Amazon Seattle with offices in Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Coimbatore and Indore. We also have our fulfillment and delivery centres across the country. Investment and growth in India continues," says Varma.
The employee strength of Amazon India has risen 25 to 30 per cent from the previous year. In light of this, the company is investing in innovative solutions in the areas of building managerial capability, assimilating employees through initiatives such as EPIC (an internally evolved quickspeak for Experience, Practice and Immerse in Culture), improving recognition, creating internal talent pipelines, creating alternate career paths for employees, and improving diversity.
This translates to employees across businesses participating in panel discussions, leader-led sessions, innovation challenges, culture cards and poster presentation challenges. One noticeable impact of these has been a reduction in the attrition rate. "Especially, attrition in the first year after joining which is when you either get assimilated or move on," she shares, adding that employees who were less than a year old in the company also started speaking and enacting Amazon's leadership principles.
"In 2018, our investment in culture assimilation would continue to be a focus area," Varma says.
To nurture talent at the grassroots, the company has put in place what it calls the Amazon Campus Mentoring Series (ACMS). It is a programme designed to spot women talent from local engineering campuses and groom them for technology roles at Amazon through continuous engagement over four to six months, and also ready them for prospective tech roles in future. The programme was piloted in Hyderabad in 2016 and later extended to Delhi, Bengaluru and Chennai, covering over 200 women engineering students. Through cohort I of ACMS, the company was able to identify 34 tech interns, of which many ended up getting hired as full-time employees. "We could have taken more, but we wanted to keep the hiring bar high," Varma says.
Further, Amazon organises special events aimed at encouraging and empowering its women employees, and honing them for leadership roles. Amazon launched the first edition of AmazeWIT - Amazon Women in Technology Conference - in November last year in Bengaluru. AmazeWIT aims to inspire women to achieve their professional goals, facilitates sharing of knowledge through talks, panel discussions and mentoring.
Off the Job
Ensuring that employees are abreast of the new developments in the tech space is another focus area for Amazon. In keeping with the flavour of the season - artificial intelligence - Amazon hosted the Amazon India Artificial Intelligence (AIAI) Summit, a first, in December last year. The event gave Amazonians as well as other attendees to learn the latest developments and application of techniques in the field of AI from the best in the field.
Amazon is working towards increasing the adoption of machine learning technology in order to improve speed and accuracy of product deliveries, provide more relevant search results, and improve efficiency in other areas of business. To help groom talent in the machine learning space and provide new career opportunities to employees, Amazon has put in place an initiative recently called ML Gurukul. "Improving address quality is one area where machine learning is useful so that we have higher success rates in deliveries. In some of the Western countries, you can catalog every possible address. But in India, addresses are much unstructured. Understanding addresses is better so that when we get an address, we know whether it is complete, whether we can deliver to that address, and break it down into neighbourhood, locality, building name and such," Varma explains.
The company, quite proudly, enlists the many innovations in India by its employees: Project Udaan - its assisted shopping programme for rural and semi-urban areas; the 'I Have Space' programme under which Amazon India partners with local store owners to provide last mile pick-up and delivery services to customers; the Tatkal initiative that enables small and medium businesses in small cities and towns to list products on Amazon within 60 minutes; its light shopping app Micron, designed for low-end smartphones; and Seller Flex, a service to reduce operational challenges for sellers, making it convenient for them to enjoy the advantages of Fulfilled by Amazon services to serve their customers on Amazon.in faster and more efficiently.
A sense of ownership, opportunities to take on bigger challenges and a motivating work environment are what keep Suri and his colleagues at Amazon happy.