Tuesday, August 18, 2015

New York Times' report on Amazon

In an address to students of Princeton University in 2010, Jeff Bezos, the promoter cum CEO of Amazon distiguished between 'gifts' and 'choices'. Gifts are what we are endowed with. Choices are what we make of them. He advised that in life choices are more important. He concluded by asking,

"How will you use your gifts? What choices will you make?
Will inertia be your guide, or will you follow your passions?
Will you follow dogma, or will you be original?
Will you choose a life of ease, or a life of service and adventure?
Will you wilt under criticism, or will you follow your convictions?
Will you bluff it out when you're wrong, or will you apologize?
Will you guard your heart against rejection, or will you act when you fall in love?
Will you play it safe, or will you be a little bit swashbuckling?
When it's tough, will you give up, or will you be relentless?
Will you be a cynic, or will you be a builder?
Will you be clever at the expense of others, or will you be kind?"
Bezos emphasised the importance of kindness. It was therefore surprising when The New York Times screamed in the title of an article that Amazon is a 'Bruising Workplace' and went on to quote many employees, past and present, how they cried in their workplace. Bezos' kindness apparently is more in the form of tough love.
John Rossman, the author of "The Amazon Way" had said about Amazon that 'it is the greatest place that I hate to work'. Compared to Amazon, Microsoft is a country club!
Amazon is the most valuable retail marketer with market valuation of $250 billion. Bezos is the fifth richest person in the world. He has made Amazon more nimble and more productive , but harsher and less forgiving. The triumvirate of 'Bureaucracy, Profligacy and Lack of Rigour' is the company's bete noire. 
According to NYT, Amazon believes in 'purposeful Darwinism', survival of the fittest employee on an ongoing basis. Employees have to be at their best every day. Amazon is where overachievers go to feel bad about themselves!
Amazon is essentially data-driven. 'Data is incredibly liberating'. Employees are at once flattered and intimidated by data regarding how they serve the customers.
Even more surprising than the NYT article is Jeff Bezos ' response. He has advised all the employees to read the article and take up with company's HR department if they feel pressured, harassed or frustrated by the company's rigour. He has claimed that Amazon is not what the newspaper describes.
The company's 14 leadership skills are:

Customer Obsession, Ownership, Invent and Simplify, Are Right A Lot, Hire and Develop The Best, Insist on the Highest Standards, Think Big, Bias for Action, Frugality, Learn and Be Curious, Earn Trust, Dive Deep, Have Backbone - Disagree and Commit, Deliver Results

NYT's linkage of these principles to Amazon's practices is interesting:
"Of all of his management notions, perhaps the most distinctive is his belief that harmony is often overvalued in the workplace — that it can stifle honest critique and encourage polite praise for flawed ideas. Instead, Amazonians are instructed to “disagree and commit” (No. 13) — to rip into colleagues’ ideas, with feedback that can be blunt to the point of painful, before lining up behind a decision."

Bezos has disagreed with the NYT portrayal of Amazon and has deplored what he called its portrait of “a soulless, dystopian workplace where no fun is had and no laughter heard” and said, “I don’t think any company adopting the approach portrayed could survive, much less thrive, in today’s highly competitive tech hiring market.”

Which company will accept that it is tough on its employees?

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