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BROKEN WORK CULTURE = BROKEN BRAND PROMISE: THE CASE AGAINST AMAZON

Posted by Cristina Filippo on 09/02/2015
I live in the world of “work culture” and, quite honestly, so do you. Whether you are flipping through a business journal or following a Twitter feed – organizational culture is constantly making news. Recently, two big events have occurred and brought to the forefront the ongoing debate about not only workplace culture, but what makes a really great culture? Netflix made a splash last week by announcing a commitment to helping young employees with work life balance by allowing one full year of parental medical leave after a baby is brought home from the hospital. Great stuff. Makes those of us obsessed by a “kind” work culture do a little dance of joy in our office. However, the other culture story makes our hair stand on end – it is the recent New York Time’s expose of Amazon’s “bruising” work environment. It seems like this story is everywhere. Even today, as I was interviewing a new executive client, I was asked what my thoughts were on Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' Darwinian "only the fittest survive" work environment. It’s amazing how negative press tends to “stick” a little more than positive press, doesn’t it?   I have to say, over the last two weeks I have thought about that New York Time's article a lot...

 
After all, Amazon is my all time favorite place to buy products.  On a weekly basis (my UPS driver can attest) I will order anything from ink cartridges to party supplies to books to toilet paper…Amazon has truly transformed itself from an online book seller into one of the world’s most important technology giants.  They are innovative and create great value for their customer.  But, here is where my dilemma  begins – my life’s work is organizational culture.  How can I continue to support a company, a brand, if you will, that by all reports, has violated the tenants that I hold most dear and advocate for every day?  I have read reports of people canceling this Amazon Prime membership – gasp!  Don't think I haven't considered it, because I simply can’t get past the fact that this brand has let me down.  

As I look at Amazon's Leadership Principles I am inspired by words such as Ownership, Hire and Develop the Best, and Earn Trust.  All of these things resonate as being a company that I want to do business with, but somehow they ring hollow when you read know what goes on behind closed doors with the employee base. I have lost my sense of trust that they believe and live those values. I am realizing that the thing I love most about Jeff Bezos – that he doesn’t give a rip about what anybody else thinks is also the thing I detest most about him. 
 
Jeff is manically focused on his customers and on frugality, but his lack of care for employees is inexcusable.  If you haven’t followed how Amazon employees are treated, I’ll give you one example. A few years ago a local paper documented ambulances waiting outside of Amazon warehouses, which lacked air conditioning.  During heat waves there were several instances of having to revive workers who were overcome by the heat. This really happened. It wasn’t until the story broke that Amazon decided to install air conditioners…believe me, this is one of many stories out there and defended as being part of the Amazon culture.
 
Another one of the values Amazon holds most dear is frugality (linked to the lack of air conditioners?). They have a gospel of saving that informs everything from its operations to its brand identity and new products.  Good business, right?  But, here is my question - is this value being mis-applied and getting in the way of building a strong, healthy work culture that will endure? What I know, for a fact, is that taking care of all of your stakeholders - customers, vendors, suppliers, employees, and the community is directly linked to profits. Businesses in today's competitive market cannot afford to be one dimensional.  They can't ONLY take care of the customer, nor do I want them to.

I want to support a company that is aligned with my values. When a brand is able to make a sincere connection with ALL stakeholders, something incredibly powerful happens and it leaves short-sighted competitors in the dust.  Research shows that "doing good" by all stakeholders is great business.  Companies such as Nordstrom, Trader Joe, Chipotle, and Costco realize that being a company that people love to buy from, work for and partner with is the only path to long-term competitive advantage.  

So, the jury is still out on my continued patronage of Amazon. I, of course, implore them to reconsider their "employees are disposable" mentality and begin to build a culture that will allow all stakeholders to thrive.  But, this begs the question for each of you reading this blog...are you "doing good" by all your stakeholders? And if not, what is stopping you?  Let us know if we can help you in any way along your leadership journey. 



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