Culture Matters To Long Term Success; How Amazon Gets it Wrong

A recent article in the New York Times “Inside Amazon Wrestling Big Ideas In A Bruising Workplace” has everyone talking including me—in case you missed it, I wrote an Op Ed for the Puget Sound Business Journal, “Opinion-Amazons Churn and Burn Culture Isn’t Sustainable”

My points in summary;
The NYT article describes employees who are suffering and in pain in their workplace. Basic human needs (health, life balance, relationships outside of work) have been neglected. People report its not uncommon for people to “cry at their desks” and put in 85 plus hour work weeks with little or no regard/support from managers for family crisis or health emergencies. The comments provided by workers include, “people practically combust” are sad and disheartening.

Bezo’s laundry list of 14 leadership principles that guide the company is comprehensive when it comes to best practice “driving the business” components, but misses the fundamental human emotional capacities that ultimately supports relationships that are the heart of the business. The “heart” appears to be missing in the culture at Amazon.

Surprisingly, the Amazon culture doesn’t reflect the needs of the Millennial generation (well researched by the way) –while other big tech companies are proactively building workplace cultures that support their needs (paternity/maternity benefits, onsite gyms and areas to support socializing with teammates etc), Amazon seems to favor a high tech sweat shop.

Amazon leaders encourage staff to provide “secret feedback” to one another’s bosses which then gets used against them in their forced performance review “rank and yank” method. This fosters a shark tank environment and promotes rival internal politics of the worst kind.

In my view, a churn and burn culture isn’t sustainable in the long haul. White collar turnover is very expensive and has big negative impact to morale, team, workplace performance, burnout and worker health. High tech white collar professionals often exit with the “keys to the kingdom” either in company specific intel, relationships or unique ability to make what needs to work in the business.

What does all this mean to you as a leader? Culture should be at the top of any senior leaders priority list. Pay close attention to what kind of workplace culture you are creating and supporting. Conduct surveys to illuminate any potential blind spots. Notice if employees are typically engaged, energized and happy to come to work to contribute? Is there “heart” in your leadership? How are you focused on helping talent get better and then retaining them?  How do you use feedback to help you and those who report to you learn, grow and develop as leaders.  These are not simple challenges.  If often helps to get an objective outside expert involved.

I can help through my Executive Coaching, facilitating leadership retreats and conducting leadership development training/workshops/activities for your staff development. In my view, this should be a critical priority for all senior leaders. Hopefully this expose written by the NYTimes serves as a wake up call for leaders everywhere.
Maureen Moriarty
425 736 5691

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