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The Amazon Insight

Recently a tough article came out of the New York Times on Amazon.


If you want the gist of the article you can just look at the title; “Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace.”


From the New York Times perspective, Amazon is a large meritocracy that takes no prisoners in trying to push their employees to work harder. That appears to have limited compassion for people in tough circumstances, and whose brutal honesty can be tough to digest.


Of course Jeff Bezos denies all of this in his email to his employees but what he should do is thank the New York Times for this piece because it allows him to see potential cracks in Amazon’s culture before it hurts the firm further.


I am not sure how much Jeff understands about culture (I am assume at least some because Amazon does own Zappos where Tony Hsieh hangs his hat on culture) but it is exceptionally normal for sub cultures to develop within any organization, especially one as large as Amazon.


So while Jeff might communicate the idea that “transparency is critical to helping the company grow” other managers might interpret this as “brutal honesty gets to the best ideas regardless of personal feelings or consequence”.


I also believe Jeff wants an organization of compassion but how does that completely exist when it seems from the Times article that people are working until 10pm nightly, when family holidays must be skipped for conference calls, when people who have had babies get performance downgrades because they aren’t at work enough? The reporting and incentive structures Amazon has designed should be reviewed for their alignment with Jeff’s intended culture. Are they working properly for the right result?


Finally, the fact that Amazon appears so directly data driven might hurt this issue because the numbers themselves will only speak to performance measures. They will not speak to the qualitative issues of the mother who had a stillborn baby and was having difficulty focusing on work (example from the story).


As I have said before in these blogs, data without context is f’ing stupid. If you see a performance drop off in someone who has otherwise performed, take the time to ask why.   Help them, if possible, to get moving again. That’s what a good manager does.


The New York Times story is an attempt to take a hit at Jeff Bezos and Amazon but this should not surprise Jeff. Instead he should view this story as a huge opportunity to address aspects of the culture that might have gotten away from the original intent.  While this may be news in the Times, these cultural challenges are not news to the recruiters in the area or to the other tech companies around.

If Jeff and his senior team take these challenges head on, then not only will the cultural gaps get fixed but Amazon can be made stronger and better.

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