Amazon has taken heat for its aggressive culture in recent weeks. But before you cancel your Prime membership and toss your Fire TV stick, I’m asking you to do what Amazon does and dig deeper.
The NY Times piece that opened up this conversation felt like the journalistic equivalent of a shock jock morning show. If you were surprised that as an employer, Amazon’s culture is laser focused on moving faster than the rest of the world, you shouldn’t be–they make that shockingly obvious in the Leadership Principles that greet anyone searching for a job there.
This response from a current Amazonian delivers his personal perspective on how Amazon’s culture sustains its increasingly aggressive goals; attracting people who thrive on personal challenge, embrace the freedom to question everything (and anyone), and who possess the confidence to be honest and respectfully transparent with each other. In my experience, these are the exact characteristics toxic cultures lack.
He describes a culture where people are absolutely turned on by the opportunity to explore the unknown–they live by the leadership principles and they deliberately choose the give-and-take that comes with the blistering pace of innovation.
Yes, there are managers that abuse power in every organization, and that’s shameful. Inhumanely mistreating people shouldn’t be acceptable–anywhere. If it’s happening somewhere at Amazon, it needs to stop. But if Amazon was the workplace equivalent of hell, it would perish–quickly. No business could sustain Amazon’s growth without passionate employees who WANT to be there.
So why does this “intense” culture seem to be attracting an endless pipeline of brilliant people?
It’s simple. At Amazon, transparency is required both ways.
The hiring process at Amazon is transparent. It candidly presents a culture that supports their aggressive business goals and they give individuals ample opportunity to assess whether or not their personal priorities and values align with those goals. As past and present employees continue to weigh in on both sides, multiple comments point to an important theme: The happiest Amazonians know themselves and make the deliberate choice to join an organization that supports the growth of their own priorities and goals.
Comments on articles and ratings on Glassdoor bear this out. Pro-Amazonians place high value on pushing themselves and using Amazon as a step towards a successful future. As one Glassdoor commenter says: “The skills I develop while working will be mine to keep for life.”
Amazon recommends understanding your personal priorities and weighing them against what it will take to be successful. “Amazon is not one of those companies that promises great work-life balance and then doesn’t deliver on that promise,” says another commenter. “Rather, Amazon makes no promises that you’ll [have] any sort of work-life balance. Although this may be a ‘con,’ at least you know what you’re getting into.”
Successful companies should expect self-awareness from potential employees.
Truly successful companies understand that they can’t fulfill the goals of the business if they try to be all things to all people–especially now, when diverse priorities and values are the emblem of the multi-generational workforce. Instead of wasting valuable time and energy trying to be ‘for everyone,’ they focus on not being for everyone. They are transparent about company goals and the culture that supports them. They expect their applicants to understand their own priorities and values and make an honest decision about whether or not they align with company goals and culture.
As the debate over Amazon’s workplace culture rages on, I suggest both employers and job seekers take a deeper look at how transparent their hiring process is on both sides of the table. When there is an authentic alignment between the work that must be done, and the people who will do the work, amazing things can happen.
Regardless of what side of this debate you land on, it polarizes an unpopular truth about work: Employers being honest about their work culture, and employees being honest about their values and priorities is critical for success.