3 min read

Raising the Amazon Bar

I am often asked “what does bar raising mean?” I was first introduced to the concept of “raising the bar” in 2014 when I was interviewing for Amazon. It is used widely across Amazon, from hiring to innovation, and even writing.
A wooden stair case leading up a sand dune, with windswept grass either side.
Photo by Yusuf Evli on Unsplash

I am often asked “what does bar raising mean?” As it’s the name of this website I thought I’d best write about it.

I was first introduced to the concept of “raising the bar” in 2014 when I was interviewing for Amazon. My lovely recruiter gave me an overview of Amazon’s hiring process and how with every hire, Amazon aims to raise the bar. Simply put, every new Amazon hire should be better than 50% of people doing that role or similar, at the same level. It is a great way to keep interviewers focused on hiring the best people. I loved this principle and was an interview bar raiser for over 4 years and now help big tech future hires with interview and writing preparation through Day One Careers!

Raising the bar doesn’t just stop at hiring for Amazon. They have a leadership principle called 'Insist on the Highest Standards', and bar raising is core to that. It is adopted across many areas of the business, from customer service to sustainability, accessibility efforts, innovation and also writing.

So how does bar raising apply to writing?

During my almost 8 years at Amazon, I was a “Doc Bar Raiser”. The Doc Bar Raisers were a group of passionate writers who volunteered their time to help others improve their writing skills. I created and ran writing training for Amazon teams across the planet, teaching them about Amazon’s writing style and its importance for innovation and speeding up decision making. I am still in awe how big decisions can be made in just 60 minutes when the doc is well written!

Doc Bar Raisers were responsible for improving the writing standards across Amazon. (We worked to raise the writing bar.) We worked with new hires, leaders, and people writing docs. We coached writers on how to improve structure and messaging, to make their docs shorter and more succinct, and how to incorporate data to guide better decision making. My role as a Doc Bar Raiser was to share the knowledge I had gained and help others write better too.

Scrabble letters on a white background reading, In Lifting Others We Rise
Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

When I first talked to people, usually on their first day, about Amazon’s six page limit (excluding appendices), many thought 6 pages was SO long...until they started trying to condense complex business plans into just 6 pages! The famous quote from Churchill was my go to; “If I had more time I would have written a shorter note”.

When we have more time, we review and critique our writing more. We get tough on every word and sentence in our documents. We ask if the detail is relevant, whether there is enough data, whether there are too many filler (or weasel) words. We think about how our reader will consume and digest the document in front of them. We also have time to gather feedback, to hear how others read our story. We improve the standard of our document.

Simply put - we raise the bar.

Writing isn’t quick. Good writing takes time. It takes thought, and a lot of effort. Here are my top tips for building in time to write:

1.       Don’t put off starting – it can feel really intimidating, but getting started as soon as you can will give you more time to nail your written document.

2.       Schedule time to write – block out time in your calendar and protect it. I used to find writing first thing on a Friday morning was best for me. My team had “no meeting Fridays” which helped. I didn’t open Outlook, I turned off instant messenger, and just wrote. I found that with total focus I could write the first draft in a morning!

3.       Keep focused – Write for good chunks of time. The more you break off to do other things, the more you lose focus and the slower you will write.

4.       Share often and early – don’t write in a vacuum. Share your doc when you are most embarrassed (but after spell checking!) That way you aren’t protective and will be more open to feedback.

5.       Read your document out loud – when you are into the finer edits, it is easy to read what you think is there. Reading it out means you read exactly what you have written. You will also spot where you have really long sentences and get a sense of the flow of your writing too.      

6.       Keep writing – the more you write, the easier it gets!

I'd love to hear your thoughts and tips in the comments below. And if you enjoy reading these and think others will too, please do share!