Opinion| High-velocity decisions in high-velocity environments

omar Elsahy
6 Min Read

Speed matters in business – but being fast is just one part of the equation. Having a framework for rapid decision-making is also key. At Amazon, that framework is our obsession with delighting customers every day.

We might no longer be a start-up, but we obsess about keeping our Day 1 mentality in everything we do. Our Day 1 culture is about always being constantly curious, scrappy, and experimental. It means not being afraid to fail and learn, and make our customers happier as we continue to evolve.

It has been a little over one year since we began our journey as Amazon.eg. Every stage of this journey has required making many decisions. These could be about the smallest detail of immediate service improvements or the highest level of long-term strategic big bets that can only be solved through innovation.

When faced with many of these decisions, I have found our leadership principles, “which govern how Amazon approaches business decisions, how we want our leaders to lead, and how we keep the customer at the center of every decision we make,” hugely helpful. The combination of Bias for Action; and Are Right a Lot, while understanding what we call two-way-door decisions – actions that have limited and reversible outcomes proved essential. A quick-thinking approach (while applying learnings from previous experiences of self or others) allows companies to maintain swift decision-making as they grow larger and more complex. Such actions give us the confidence to move forward with calculated risk, where the cost of failing and reversing is lower than the cost of doing nothing.

Our Bias for Action principles allows us to plot a course, drive progress and adjust to changing market segment needs. And it is one of the reasons I am feeling confident in our teams’ as we head into our biggest shopping season of the year.

Balancing risk with progress

Despite the need for speed, some decisions do, of course, require respect, deep dives, debating, and careful reflection. I have found guidance from our founder and executive chairman, Jeff Bezos, very helpful here. Not long after he founded Amazon, he wrote to shareholders about the need to distinguish between reversible and irreversible decisions.

If decisions are a one-way street, then they should be made methodically, with great deliberation and consultation, reflecting additional Amazon leadership principles, including Deep Dive and Insist on the Highest Standards. As we set out above, in situations where decisions can be reversed, then it is often worth taking a risk. Most decisions require having about 70% of the information you wish you had. So, if you wait till you know everything, your decision will probably be too late.

We have all heard about the need to be agile and to fail quickly. Being bold and curious enough to do so is the core of the entrepreneurial spirit that helps businesses make something impactful and different.

Enabling teams to make decisions

Peak shopping season is both a daily sprint and a marathon. That means we will be working in a high-intensity environment, requiring performance under pressure. Ensuring that everyone is empowered and trusted (especially at these times) to make decisions, review, and course-correct to challenges and opportunities results in us becoming a stronger team that can serve at scale.

Seeking out the correct information with obsessive curiosity is critical to make the right decisions – a bird’s eye view combined with the ability to zoom into the details of the day-to-day is also key to making effective decisions. With the proper mechanisms and technology in place, all of us (not only our leaders), can make decisions that drive change. Everyone one of us is a leader that is empowered and expected to do so.

Delighting our customers

During our 11.11 and WFS Campaigns, customers expect great deals and savings on relevant selection and products, knowing they can trust us to deliver to high standards and speed. I am confident that we will meet all our promises based on the preparations and decisions we have made. These include expanding fulfilment capacity, capacity building across our teams, technology and product deployments across the organization, early preparation with our selling partners, and new last mile efficiency deployments based on learnings from previous peaks. Preparation is and will always be key. If you have 10 hours to chop down a tree – spend nine hours sharpening your axe.

Being courageous

The ability to decide on a course of action and make things happen is critical. I would suggest that courage is equally important. We need to actively overcome the fear of making the ‘wrong’ decision and, with careful risk and mitigation plans, acknowledge that speed matters.

If a decision can be reversed, then act quickly and be willing to course correct if needs be. Sometimes lengthy decision-making processes are simply not fast enough to keep businesses ahead of the curve. We need to be able to build planes while flying them at the same time.

Omar Elsahy, General Manager, Amazon Egypt

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