Ellenore was the global director of Kindle Content Risk Management at Amazon. A 13-year veteran gracing my podcast studio (not literally) to help all of us understand how Amazon looks at human resource management. I recently received a request on this topic, here is my delivery.
In this episode we discuss:
You can find Ellenore on LinkedIn here.
You can find more information about the inspiring work she's been doing with her Open Hearts Big Dreams foundation here.
[0:00:01] George Reid: Welcome to us Always Day One. My name is George Reid, a former Amazonian turned Amazon consultant. Each week on the podcast, you're going to hear industry experts, brand owners and Amazon employees share their answers to the basic yet fundamental questions you should be asking yourself, Bang your Amazon business. Now let's jump in. Hello, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us again for another episode of It's always Day One. Today I've got Eleanor on who is seeking to us a little bit about managing change, bringing on brilliant talent, retaining that talent overall, kind of talking about that side of the business. We haven't discussed too much. Eleanor. You wanna give us a bit of a background about yourself and we can dive into some questions?
[0:00:43] Ellenore Angelidis: No. Sure, it's great to be here, and I will give you the very short version. What has been my career has been described as non linear. I've done a lot of different things, including 13 years at Amazon. Although I'm a lawyer by training, I've had business product HR, um, and international role. So I think with that broad perspective, I've come away with a few things that I think would address some of the questions that might be interesting to the audience today.
[0:01:10] George Reid: Your final role at Amazon. Where did you end up your global director. Right. But what was the particular role?
[0:01:17] Ellenore Angelidis: My last role at Amazon was actually in Kindle content. Um, and I was in charge of all the processes and teams around the globe that decided what content got to be published or not around the world. And it was a combination of, you know, teams and machine learning and technology. So really a fascinating, you know, different Look at publishing when you read a book, you don't think about all the technology that goes into that. But my team had to decide, Would it be okay to publish somewhere in the world like in a very short amount of time? So that was a really interesting challenge, and we found we got a lot of feedback when we didn't get it quite as expected, or people saw something they didn't want, so it was definitely an interesting role.
[0:02:02] George Reid: That feedback is echoed at the moment with Amazon's change in logo that I've seen recently. But we won't go into that too much. I
[0:02:10] Ellenore Angelidis: saw that, too. And yes, it was. I'm sure whoever designed it never intended the reaction they got. But it's a good lesson that you never know what kind of reaction you're going to get, and you should be open to feedback.
[0:02:23] George Reid: Indeed, so one area wants to just get that discuss today. I think one of the big things I've seen recently is a massive amount of change for many brands. Notably that switch from we've always been in store. Now
[0:02:39] Ellenore Angelidis: that's not possible.
[0:02:40] George Reid: We've got to go online. That being
[0:02:42] Ellenore Angelidis: said,
[0:02:43] George Reid: how can Brando's and teams think about managing this change?
[0:02:48] Ellenore Angelidis: I think it starts with that. Change is a constant right, like that is the one thing that every company should think about, that there's always going to be massive change. And I think what my time at Amazon really taught me is that Amazon positioned itself from the very beginning to be able to manage change because they are incredibly obsessed and the reason they use that word obsessed because it is an obsession with the customer and inventing on behalf of the customer. So if you take that, you anticipate what does the customer want and in the pandemic world, I can't get in my car. I don't want to risk going to the store. So how do I get what I want online? But it goes deeper than that, like what kind of experience with the customer want. And I think as you're going through that it's really a mind shift because every company says we're all about the customer. I think what Amazon does, which is different, is they're all about the customer, even when it is hard, even when it's expensive, right? It's not just about the customer when it's convenient, and I think that shift is really hard to do. It is what separates Amazon and companies that have that kind of customer obsession from others who struggle with how do they keep up with the constant change in customer demand and customer needs.
[0:04:14] George Reid: I think that's probably a big piece right there, like if you just look at the expense component, shifting online and thinking we need to have a very good digital shelf. Now we need to invest in assets me to maybe higher and advertising person to double down on whether it's Google search Amazon advertising. These are all expensive things. But ultimately, if your customer is going to be there, it's now your your duty. No, if you are customer obsessed to continue creating that great experience, how how can people justify that as a brand owner and manager?
[0:04:51] Ellenore Angelidis: Well, it's interesting, because I think one of the mindsets that I think was hard for people who came from more traditional companies is that Amazon never wanted the customer to have to pay for the change like you were going to give them the best experience. And if it costs you more at the outset, you trusted that that payoff would be there later. And I think the second part after customer obsession is that long term thinking, right, like that is a really hard thing to do because we all managed by quarters I was an American company. And I, you know, saw executives managed to quarterly results in quarterly earnings or, you know, annual Amazon manages to a really long time line that delighting the customers will never be something that isn't worth doing. But it might cost you something for one year, two years, five years, 10 years. Uh, you know, one of my favorite Amazon products. Is Amazon fresh? Because I get my groceries right, and I remember my friend who launched that product like that's been years of trying to figure out how to make grocery work. But as a customer, it was always great for me, and I knew from my friends it was a difficult proposition to make work from a lot of other perspectives. But as a customer, I felt like I wasn't being asked to make the investment with the company. They made sure I was taken care of, and that investment was happening on their side because their view was over time that investment will always pay off.
[0:06:26] George Reid: And that doesn't make sense when you're the manager making those decisions, and you've obviously got the data to know if it is going to pay off. But if you're thinking lower down the food chain per se and you think about motivating employees, how do they get behind it?
[0:06:41] Ellenore Angelidis: Well, that's an interesting question, because I think one of the leadership principles and you'll hear for anyone who ever spent any time at Amazon. If you are successful, the leadership principles became like how you managed your decision making and how you manage like who you hired and even your development. But it's all about ownership. So part of the lower down is we're all part of the store, right? And sometimes delighting the customer isn't expensive. It maybe just knowing that something is not working well for customers. And a big part of how the customer obsession shows up is everyone is tasked with getting close enough to the customer or even better, being a customer. So you know what their experiences. So I think if you can say we can't afford this kind of investment, there's often very creative ways to improve the customer experience that may not cost a lot of money. So part of it is is saying, Okay, the challenge is with finite resources, invention has to occur. Like they say, necessity is the mother of invention, and I think Amazon definitely believes if you give people not enough resources, they will have to invent their way out. And I think for a person that may not have the financial control they can invent and invent often is not expensive. It's how do we make this better? Uh, and even like the example of Prime, which was expensive to start but was in engineers idea of. Wouldn't it be great? Wouldn't customers love this? And it sounded sort of crazy. But you know how many of us actually benefit from that one person's idea who wasn't a senior manager? Um, and just thought this would be a really great customer proposition and was empowered enough to bring it forward and say, I have this idea. Why don't we try it?
[0:08:33] George Reid: And those sorts of individuals in the company are fantastic where they are inventors, and we all want inventors inside of our company. But when it comes back to actually going out and find them getting them, recruiting them, firstly, it's a two part question, which is always a little bit playful. Firstly, what advice do you have around attracting talent? And then secondly, following that up the challenge to identify that talent as there is an influx of potential, you know, applicants.
[0:09:05] Ellenore Angelidis: So first finding the talent, I think just looking everywhere, Um, and I always ask people, Do you want to know what you're gonna do every day, right? Like, do you want that? Sort of I know. I'm gonna move this widget to this place every day, and that makes me feel comfortable. Then don't go to Amazon because that is not the experience you're going to get. So it's looking for people who actually like that level of ambiguity and change, and they want to invent. And again, not everyone invents. But they want to be in a place that that have fun, work hard, make history, that making history part is actually, I think what attracts a lot of people, and for myself, it was being a part of something that wants to do Big right wants to do important, wants to do valuable. So you're looking for people where that's a value system for them, Um, and then when you have applicants come in. I felt like my job as a, you know, and I recruited a lot of people. I was in the bar raiser and training program. I had two roles in an interview. One was what makes this person special like that was my job to find out what about this particular person made them special because every single person has something that's unique and wonderful that makes them special. And then the second part was was that a good fit for whatever role that I was was tasked with filling because often it was like, this is a really special person, but not for what I need. Right? Like this. It doesn't fit now. It may be for somewhere else in the company, or it may be even. And I was very, very open with people that I talked to, I may say, because I had a huge network that was also outside of Amazon. I think you'd be a great fit for my friend who has a startup, right? Because in that interview process, my role was, How do I get this person to the next role that they're supposed to have, whether beyond my team and my company, or help them figure out that next step on their journey? So and that makes it a lot more fun, because I'm not saying no to you. I'm just saying, I don't see that this is a great fit based on what you have told me, right? So it's not me to say, like thumbs down like you're you know, you're not good enough. I mean, often it's just like what you want isn't what this particular role is going to be able to give you. So where do we find the role that's going to give you what you want or what you're looking for? And I feel like those conversations were just really fun because it was almost a sleuthing, right? I need to find what makes this person special, and then I need to figure out where they should go next, right? And, you know, with a suite of options available.
[0:11:53] George Reid: I really, really like that. And you know, it echoes what what the missus says quite recently, doing a lot of Amazon interviews of They're looking to create a great experience, like whether that's positive or negative as an outcome. Overall, the experience wants to be positive. So what's what's interesting in that is, if you're sat in the brand owners shoes, you're bringing people in your thinking right? I'm looking for an appetizer, but perhaps they are not suitable for the advertising role, are you? Then you know, let's say you're digging around and go back to see their creator. They're very creative. There would be great at working on the content side of things. Are you kind of putting a little note next to that and going, It's worthwhile noting down that person's information to save that for later on, because there could be a point in time when it rings a bell and it could be a nice referral or you're looking for a creator and they'd be the perfect person. Do you? Do you keep notes on that? Is that something you recommend or
[0:12:50] Ellenore Angelidis: I want? Absolutely. And I like getting to know people. So part of for me is this is an hour of my life for 45 minutes. I'm not getting back and neither is the other person, so we should make it count for something, right? So part of it is absolutely like I have an example of someone who is a board member on my not for profit. She actually interviewed with me at Amazon, and she was a no hire for the role that we had, but I really liked her. I thought she was amazing, so we stayed connected. She ended up doing a whole lot of other things for other companies, but I kept looking for I want a reason to work with this person, right, so because I think they have something really unique, even though they weren't fit for the role. Because I think what people sometimes conflate in the recruiting process is what kind of person is this and what kind of technical skills do they have so to me, part of it is do I think you're a good person? Because again, this is what probably was not true earlier on in my career, but I came to I don't want people on my team that I don't think are good people, right, like they aren't someone I want to spend time with and I share some values and I feel like we at the end of the day are going to try and do good things together. And I want people who are very different. They don't have to be like me. But do I think you're kind of a good human, my own barometer? And then do you have the technical skills for the job so I can think you're an amazing human and you don't have the technical skills for this role. I can also think you have amazing technical skills, but like your humanity again may not be well developed. I'll give you the benefit of the doubt because I think sometimes e Q can be really hard for people who are earlier in their career, and they're really technically gifted because nobody made them understand their impact on others because they were just so technically gifted. So some of the feedback I've gotten from those people is nobody told me I was kind of a jerk sometimes, right? So if you haven't got that feedback, you not going to be able to evolve and sort of grow your humanity or Cuba. For me, those two things were separate. So I have let people go that I thought were amazing human beings, but really not a good fit for a role. And they were working for me and we're friends, and I feel like that should be possible, right, because I'm not saying you're a bad person. I'm just saying, this is not working, you're not happy, and we need to get you someplace where you can thrive. So I think that's the hard part is I think people put a lot of judgment on. If I say no to you for this role, you're telling me I'm bad or I'm not good enough. You know what I'm saying? You're not. You know, this is not a good It's not a good match, right? Like you in this role or you and your skills are not a good
[0:15:28] George Reid: match in terms of practicality pointed for you because I really like your mindset. Just reinforce that. You just want to work with someone that you enjoy that you think it's a good person. Um, and overall, they're they're going to be good to be around. They're gonna be good to convert, So they're gonna be good to go for a coffee with whatever it is, they're just good, um, saying that. What sort of questions are you asking then? Throughout this interview process to want tease out what sort of person they are, Uh, and to then going back to the previous point of understanding what makes them special. Are there any particular questions that you recall that we're kind of I love asking this one because it can go in many directions.
[0:16:12] Ellenore Angelidis: Well, I didn't have specific question, because again, if you know the Amazon interview process, you are given a competency. Right? So you're looking for Is this person, a good think big person or an owner. So you're definitely asking situational questions that give you the kind of data that will help you make a decision? Does this person have the ability to be an owner, right to take ownership? What I found questions on the humanity is how do they treat other people? So again, it's not a specific question. It's often in how they answer, do they? Do they talk about how they bring people along? Do they talk about things as a team? Do they give credit to other people, right? And and their own sort of. How do they position themselves within a group, Right. So do they put them. I'm this wonderful person, or did they talk about? I was on a great team and we did these things. And then when you get into, like, what interests them, why do they want to come to to Amazon in some cases? Or if I was interviewing for another company, like, what is it that motivates them? Because again, I think like I did a lot of mentoring and I loved mentoring people who wanted to have impact and create value. I found it less fundamental people who wanted more money and a title, right? So part of it was like teasing out what, what did people value and what was the kind of currency they were looking for? And I think a lot of times the question went around, I want to come because I want to have this impact or I want to learn Those are people to your question that are likely going to be really great to be around and also going to challenge you because to me learners ask questions right like,
[0:17:53] George Reid: Why are we
[0:17:53] Ellenore Angelidis: doing it this way? That doesn't make sense. So it's really in how they answer the questions. And are they humble? Do they want to learn, but still confident in their own ability? So it's that sort of balancing thing that you see as their answering your questions that give you that view into, you know, what kind of person would this be like on a team? And I did find as a leader, building a team of different kinds of people was really important, so I often was looking for I have a team of a lot of linear thinkers. I need a creative person that will work well with people that are going to challenge them. So I also like to look, Do you like to be challenged, asking people hard questions and seeing if they take a moment to reflect, to answer, back, say, I don't know, like, say, Wow, I've never thought about that before, as opposed to I know everything because I find every decade that goes by I realized I know less and it's really disconcerting because I figure at the end of my life, I'm going to know nothing, right? That will be the conclusion. But that ability to say I'm an evolving human being. I'm learning. I'm growing like that's a really good indicator for me that that person is going to be good to have on a
[0:19:08] George Reid: team and also just a good person, because there's a lot of self awareness to make that that statement as a whole. Um, given how much more valuable individuals in the hours and industry and e commerce are becoming over that. So the last year or two, because that is exploded,
[0:19:27] Ellenore Angelidis: right? Right.
[0:19:28] George Reid: What? What advice can you lend to those looking to retain talent? You know, Let's say someone's obtained the perfect content creator and they're just brilliant on it. They ask questions. They're deep diving all the time into all sorts of research. They're brilliant. What are you doing then? To go? Actually, we need to keep hold of this person because he's an absolute. She's an absolute GM, and we want them to follow the team.
[0:19:53] Ellenore Angelidis: So the hard part is you can't hold on to people. Um, so I think that I'm just going to disabuse you of that notion. But there's a wonderful book that says what great managers do differently. And I think what you can do is say, I want to create an environment where this person wants to stay right? So what I did with members on my team and Amazon is very unique that people move every 2 to 3 years and it's encouraged, right? So chances are who's ever on your team is not going to stay forever now. That's not true at every environment, and some people do want to stay put. So what I found was the most valuable is how much do you know about what motivates this person? And this is a trick because it's not. Most people are not motivated by money or position, although that's what companies want to give people. So I will ask managers. Do you know what this person's currency is? And it can be learning. It can be impact. It can be autonomy. What do you know about what this person wants in terms of like core currency? How do they want to be treated? How do they want to be affirmed? And then what are their career and life aspirations? What do they want to do with this part of their life? So I believe in a whole life philosophy, and I think if you want to keep people working with you and I have people coming back and working with me because they knew I cared about what they wanted, right, like I would try to create an environment again within a team. There was always going to be a balance where they could continue to grow because they might actually be, in your example, a great content creator. But they really want to experiment with something else, right? So do you give them the chance to try that? Even though they're really core skill set is something else. Um, and for me, part of the reason I stayed at Amazon because I got that question for as long as I did is they kept letting me move right and try something new and different, right in things that I might not be on paper, the most obvious choice, but that my currency was learning an impact. So that ability to keep fulfilling that need for myself without saying, as opposed to saying, You're really good at this. So please do more of that right, because some people, like they're really good at something, but it doesn't give them joy. So it's separating those two things out. If that makes sense,
[0:22:15] George Reid: yeah, so you kind of see that someone's nailing the advertising and loves being a bit of an excel. Not every now and then. But reality is they're not enthusiastic. They're not going out there and asking questions, and therefore I really like that currency piece around. What is their? Their currency, you know, stripped back the the motivation of stature or financial gain. What is it? What's making them turn up each morning? What is It's making thrive, And is there any you know putting yourself back and those managers shoes again. What were you doing with your team on a regular or irregular basis to tease that information out?
[0:22:54] Ellenore Angelidis: So it's really interesting. That is harder than you think, because most people don't actually even know what their own currency is, right? So I found actually asking challenging questions where you sit down and say, What is it you guys want to accomplish? Like, you know, one on one and again forget my role like Give me what? What do you want to accomplish at this company? Or, you know, over some time, period. And I'll give you an example of somebody on my team who you know, wanted to make it to like, you know, two levels away from Bastos in, like, five years, right? And I said, Okay, are you sure that's what you want? And he said, Yep, yep, yep. And you could tell he was a bit of negotiation because he wanted me to say, Here's what it takes to do that and I said, it's possible Amazon doesn't have any time frames highly unlikely, given most people's experience. But like I have a couple of friends with meteoric rises. You know you could be that person, but I said, Let's test that for a few minutes, right? So here's the timeframe. Let's say it's five years. It's five years, your two levels away from Bezos. Um, in a job, you hate a team, a team that doesn't respect you. Doing something that you don't find valuable. Are you good? And he looked at me like like of course not. And I said, Okay, you just told me three things that are valuable to you that weren't part of what you talked about to begin with. So that's one, I think it's also asking people to look at the kind of choices they made. Like I had one person that said, I'm not getting promoted in the time frame of some of my colleagues, which was a common conversation. I said, Well, tell me about the kind of choices you made, you know, and the kinds of things that you've done to this point, and this person had followed their curiosity and been interested in something and taken that role. And I said, You're taking a non linear path that is always slower, but it tells me you value learning you value impact. So you just have to adjust how you think about your career because you're actually paying yourself in the currency that's most valuable to you. But you are. The trade offs is you're not going to hit the next level because again you're taking a more circuitous path. But frankly, as I tell my adult Children, there's actually no prize for getting anyplace faster than someone else. Like, I think we should be disabused of like this. Life is not a race. In fact, if you get to middle age and you get your midlife crisis faster than everybody else, like, that is kind of the booby prize like nobody wants that. So if you're figuring stuff out in a way that works for you, if it takes a little more time, it's your time, right and it's your life. So I think helping people understand that being thoughtful about their choices and trying to understand why am I making these choices? And do I like my choice is not like my choices helps tease out what is important to them, Um, and then as a manager, once you know that, then you can also like if someone is an affirmation person, give them affirmation. If someone's a you know, I don't want to be called out. I just want you to give me the next project. Then don't call them out. Give them the next project. But I think that the piece of that that most people struggle with is you actually have to get to know people, right. You have
[0:26:07] George Reid: to talk
[0:26:09] Ellenore Angelidis: to them, right? You have to be willing to have conversations about something other than is the Excel done right? Or did you hand that in right? So I think that part is people need to actually spend the time having human interaction, right? Um and that often, if you're in a really fast paced environment, feels like I don't have time for that, right? Like, and it's like, Oh, you do. You have to
[0:26:35] George Reid: and it's It's obviously more difficult, given the current scenario. I know my go to would have been finding these things out down the pub and in devising people along along to that one. But I'm British. So what? What do you expect but now switching slightly if you kind of to round things up and I love what you've said that, but given, given what you're doing now and obviously your progression. Amazon was very impressive. And you finished at a really strong high standard or level whatever. Whatever you want to clarify. As do you think your personal currency shifted a little bit over the years of going well, Amazon. I was doing this. But now you're doing this phenomenal project which I'd love you to speak about as well. The
[0:27:17] Ellenore Angelidis: interesting part is no, I just got more clarity, like I love learning. So I followed my curiosity and I got all these tools and skills, and I just wanted to try and see if they would work in another environment. Right. So what I'm doing in Ethiopia is trying to take all the Amazon principles, the tenants, the leadership, the bias for action that you know, believing anything is possible and seeing can we solve the challenge of the literacy rate for a country of 110 million? Because it's crazy, right? And the thing that Amazon gives you is it tells you the impossible is possible. And to me, it just made me angry, right? It made me greedy to say like I could do these things in Kindle and I could do these things in consumer like Now let me extend that and it feels to me like a very natural extension. I still do talks at Amazon. I don't feel like I've left. I have Amazon friends, right? Like I have Amazon board members. I publish all my books through Kindle, so it's really interesting. I just literally feel like a part of Amazon that took a different seat. And now I coach and mentor and I feel like part of my obligation is so many people helped me to have the career I wanted and to now give me the freedom to explore in a completely different sandbox. I want to kind of unlock that for people who want to do the same, because it's simple and it's complex at the same time, and often just hearing from someone who it's just a regular person and might be a mom or might be, you know, have a background that you say, Wow, that person isn't so different than me and they did it or they struggled to. I think a big part of it is none of it is easy and it's all super messy, right? Like I mean, up and down. And I've been laid off. I dropped out of school like I have one of the talks I'm putting together is failing my way to success. Right? So, um, people just look at the high points and you know, the real of successes. There's all kinds of things in between that are like, Oh, that didn't work out. But I learned, um, so for me, it's actually just taking everything I learned and applying it to another place I care about and working with a lot of the same people in different ways.
[0:29:34] George Reid: I love that. And for those who want to learn a little bit more about the open hearts, Big Dreams Foundation House, I was best to go dig into that.
[0:29:42] Ellenore Angelidis: Well, there's two ways you can find our author page on Amazon, so if you are shopping there, you can find us. There is open hearts, big dreams, and it's ready. Set go books Ethiopia and we're publishing, you know, early reader books, and it's been like a fun, creative process. But everything I learned that Kindle and other places has really helped us, or you can just go online and look for open hearts, big dreams dot org Um, and then you can hear about all of our projects, which again, um, some of the tenants and things we use you'll find I have shamelessly taken over from my Amazon days. And I think, you know, I view that all of those experiences and that learnings are applicable to whether you choose to work at Amazon or whether you just want to have an impact and grow and invent and make history right. I don't think there's anything that says you can only do that. If you're working at Amazon, you can work at Amazon and do it. You can work at Amazon for a period and then take it with you. Or you can say, I just want to learn and apply it where I am. I think the beauty of it is all of it is generally applicable, and it's just a matter of are you willing to learn and experiment? I think Amazon's a giant experiment where people were willing to fail and make hard choices, and I think it's the failing and making hard choices that a lot of people don't want to do. Um, and there's no easier path, right? Like I can tell you, there's some, like, magic thing, although I've been looking for it. And if I find it, I'll bring everyone in on it. But it's hard work and try new things and being willing to fail and then get up and try it again. And that is, unfortunately, the only secret sauce that I found so far.
[0:31:19] George Reid: Well, it's been beautifully summarised right there, Eleanor. Thank you. Thank you so much. I'll include those links as well in the show notes. And I've really enjoyed our chat and share loads of value to people listening.
[0:31:32] Ellenore Angelidis: Thank you. Thank you for having me. I really enjoyed it.
[0:31:36] George Reid: Bye
[0:31:37] Ellenore Angelidis: bye.
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