Empowering Employees to Drive Innovation in the Warehouse Workplace
Workplace Wellness The Amazon employee — who worked his way up from a maintenance tech to a regional program manager — shares his thoughts on the importance of a work culture that works to integrate tech into the daily routine.
What did your early career at Amazon look like?
I transitioned to Amazon after serving in the military for several years, where I worked to maintain and provision our Navy aircraft. My first role with the company was at our Sumner, Washington, fulfillment center as a maintenance technician, where I worked with our Amazon Robotics drive units. What I love about working at Amazon is the spirit of innovation and the empowerment of every single employee to contribute as an owner in the company. For example, in my first role with Amazon, I saw an opportunity to improve how we moved robotic drive units in the facility and designed a tool that made the process more efficient and ergonomic. The company helped me receive a patent on that innovation, and now the tool is used across more than 25 fulfillment centers worldwide. Since that time, I’ve progressed in my career and am now a regional program manager with Amazon.
What about the working culture at the fulfilment centers has enabled you to advance in your career?
Amazon has created great, full-time jobs across its fulfillment network that offer ample opportunities for upward mobility and career progression within the company or beyond. Of course I can speak for myself, but so many Amazon employees have done the same. In fact, nearly 15 percent of our entry level managers in the United States started as hourly employees. Amazon is a growing company and a great place to find and pursue your potential, whatever that may be. Whether it’s moving up into leadership positions, finding a new career path entirely or inventing a new job that’s never existed before, there are tons of options. One of our leadership principles is to Develop the Best, and we take that seriously by offering resources, support, mentorship and benefits that help individuals excel.
What steps can business owners/warehouse managers take to empower employees to be creative and innovative within their realm of work?
At Amazon we continue to innovate on behalf of customers and are regularly testing operational and fulfillment inventions at locations around the world. We have found that innovation has no borders, and our best ideas have come from our fulfillment employees. For example, within our fulfillment centers we utilize a process called Kaizen, a Japanese term meaning “change for the better,” where we have groups of employees step away from their normal jobs and work with managers, engineers and scientists to deconstruct elements of a task or an entire process. Amazon conducts hundreds of Kaizens every year with thousands of employees, resulting in ideas for increased efficiency, newly invented tools and improvements to our operations. These successes are cataloged and rolled out across our network worldwide. As we iterate on our many innovations, we continuously test our findings and look to replicate successes based on where they can best help meet customer needs in any location.
How important is it to implement modern technology for inventory management?
Over the past 20 years, Amazon has developed from a small seller working from a garage in Seattle to a global company with many million customers worldwide. Today, associates get to work in technology enabled environments where the technology is used to improve their processes and assist them doing their daily role. Robotics and automation within our fulfillment centers help drive the superfast delivery speeds we know our customers love. Robotic drive units bring shelves of products to our employees and allow us to increase our storage capacity to have a broad selection of products as close to customers as possible. Thanks to this technology, what used to take hours can now be achieved in mere minutes.
What is the largest problem of today’s warehouses that can be alleviated with implementing technology?
Robotics and automation within our fulfillment centers help drive the superfast delivery speeds we know our customers love. Robotic drive units bring shelves of products to our employees and allows us to increase our storage capacity to have a broad selection of products as close to customers as possible. Thanks to this technology, what used to take hours can now be achieved in mere minutes.
What do you think the relationship between warehouse technology and its employees will look like in the next decade?
I can’t predict the future, but what I do know is that employees value and enjoy working in an environment that features advanced technology. It creates more efficient processes and reduces order processing times, which means we can get items to customers faster. We will continue to invest in research and development that provides assisted and collaborative autonomy to extend the human reach and capability to make tasks more efficient, allowing our employees to re-allocate their abilities to other duties.