Jeff Bezos and Amazon are known for many things. A juggernaut of a flywheel. Drones. Amazon Web Services. Relentless expansion.

But while Amazon is undeniably a tech company, the business -- like every business -- was built by people.

And that's why, in his 1998 shareholder letter, Bezos said, "Setting the bar high in our approach to hiring has been, and will continue to be, the single most important element of Amazon.com's success."

He went on to list three simple questions all Amazon employees should ask themselves before making a hiring decision.

1. Will you admire this person?

"If you think about the people you've admired in your life," Bezos wrote, "they are probably people you've been able to learn from or take an example from. For myself, I've always tried hard to work only with people I admire, and I encourage folks here to be just as demanding. Life is definitely too short to do otherwise."

We all work for a paycheck; otherwise we would do volunteer work. But we want to work for more than a paycheck: To work with and for people we respect and admire -- and with and for people who respect and admire us.

That sense of connection allows us to feel a part of something bigger, to feel that sense of teamwork and esprit de corps that turns a group of individuals into a real team.

Feeling a true purpose starts with knowing what to care about and, more important, why to care.

And caring starts with respecting -- and feeling respected by -- the people you work with.

2. Will this person raise the average level of effectiveness of the group they're entering?

"We want to fight entropy," Bezos wrote. "The bar has to continuously go up. I ask people to visualize the company 5 years from now. At that point, each of us should look around and say, 'The standards are so high now -- boy, I'm glad I got in when I did!'"

Forget about finding a stereotypically well-rounded employee. If you could pick only one attribute, what would you choose as the most important skill or quality a great employee needs to have to succeed in the position?

Maybe it's attitude. Or interpersonal skills. Or teamwork. Or maybe it's a specific skill set. 

Whatever it is, that attribute is what the employee you choose must possess. Training can fill in the gaps, but that's the one attribute you truly need.

Hire the person who truly excels in the area you need most.

3. Along what dimension might this person be a superstar?

"Many people have unique skills, interests, and perspectives that enrich the work environment for all of us," Bezos wrote. "It's often something that's not even related to their jobs. One person here is a National Spelling Bee champion (1978, I believe). I suspect it doesn't help her in her everyday work, but it does make working here more fun if you can occasionally snag her in the hall with a quick challenge: 'Onomatopoeia!'"

The best employees are often a little different: A little eccentric, sometimes irreverent, even delighted to be unusual. They seem slightly odd, but in a really good way. Unusual personalities shake things up, make work more fun, and transform a plain-vanilla group into a team with flair and flavor.

People who aren't afraid to be different naturally stretch boundaries and challenge the status quo, and they often come up with the best ideas.

This is why Amazon has become the company it is is -- and is how your company can become the business you want it to be.

Published on: Aug 9, 2018
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