Amazon Needs a Fifteenth Principle

It’s hard to look at any of my normal feeds today and still not see a reference to what’s going on at Amazon. The NYT article that appeared this weekend clearly makes Amazon out to be an incredibly competitive place to work. Competition seems to be defined as much in dedication and hours spent as key measures, not just some measure of productivity.

No one should be surprised at this. And, if you read the leadership principles for the corporation, there is a lot to like, actually.

What I really appreciate is the emphasis on diversity of thought. It’s expected that employees challenge one another. There is a basis throughout that in order to get the best outcomes, there is a need to expose and debate ideas.

But there are two principles that appear one-sided to me: Earn Trust and Insist on the Highest Standards. In both of these, as they are stated, they fail to recognize that workers don’t exist to serve the corporations they work for. They bring their talents and work hard, sure. But when these two principles drive allegiance to the company over all else, they are demanding the employees either make work their priority or go somewhere else.

I’m fine with that. But the CEO should not be surprised that as a result, managers take some actions that are aligned to the principles but not very empathetic toward employees. Earn Trust is turned into an expectation that if you don’t work as hard as at least 50% of the workforce, then you are not trusted. And Highest Standards are about the highest work standard possible, which can mean forsaking other aspects of your life. Eventually, this can totally ruin the impact of the intent – diversity is slowly eroded in favor of a singular culture.

There are likely managers at Amazon who I would love to work for. Leaders who understand that diversity of thought comes from our total life experience, and the more of your life you spend inside the company, the less your diversity brings to problems solving.

One path they might take would be to add a fifteenth leadership principle:  Respect the whole person. We realize that in order to solve the problems we work on, we need to rely on people who have lives just like our customers. And while we strive to make our customers lives better, so, too, should we find ways to help our employees live a full life experience.

In his response to the article, Jeff Bezos commented, correctly I believe, that a person would be crazy to work in that environment as depicted in the article. He also said “..but hopefully, you don’t recognize the company described.” As a leader, if you are hoping that is true, then you don’t know.

If you want to move the needle from “Hope” to “Know” Jeff, you might want to think about adding one humanizing principle to your list, and then training your managers that you can still get top performance from people without squeezing their non-work hours and life out of them.

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