A recent article about working conditions in Amazon in The New York Times made a big splash. The article explained in detail the hard working conditions of Amazon employees. Several former employees were interviewed. My first reaction was to think, “I don’t want to work there even if they tripled my salary!” But after thinking a lot about the contents of the article, I had one question: what does it take to produce a successful company? After all, a CEO like Steve Jobs drove his employees crazy .
I attended a conference about big data recently where I met one of the speakers who used to work for Amazon. I used the opportunity to ask him about The New York Times article. I said to him that perhaps as a former employee he might have more freedom to express his honest opinion. He looked at me with some confidence in his eyes and said that he had worked at Amazon for 10 years, and that he had interacted with Jeff Bezos several times. His experience did not mirror those in the article. He went on to say that working for Amazon was a great experience, and that it was a great place to work. He then added that you can always find unhappy people eager to express their negative opinions, and that the writer of the New York Times article had sought out these people to document their experiences. Frankly, I was happy to hear his comments. It made sense to me that a company as large as Amazon would have a range of employees — from happy to unhappy employees. It also should be said, however, that this person was a computer data scientist, no selling requirement at Amazon.
Dina Vaccari is one the people mentioned in the article . The article quoted her by indicating that she did not sleep for 3 days, trying to meet her selling responsibilities in Amazon. Later, Ms. Vaccari explained in LinkedIn that although she mentioned these words to the writer, the explanation of her behavior was not related to her work at Amazon rather to her life circumstances at that time.
Another employee at Amazon Noelle Barnes, who worked in the marketing department, said “Amazon is where overachievers go to feel bad about themselves.” This was his explanation for the harsh management style of treating people even when they achieve. If this really does happen, it is unfortunate shortcoming of Amazon leadership.
The culture of Amazon is 180º different from Zappos, owned by Amazon. Zappos culture cultivates the well-being and happiness of their employees, ignoring all of these harsh management tactics which the mothership practices. Zappos, still led by Tony Hsieh, recently adopted a Holacracy, a radical “self-governing” operating system, which eliminates job titles. This management style eliminates all the barriers between the managers and the employees. Zappos employees have no management title. Even Hsieh lost his title and some of his privileges. Zappos lately lost some of their employees who resisted the culture shift in management style. Zappos succeeded without the use of Amazon’s management style.
How about Google’s management style? Google has a balanced management style which looks for the well-being of their people by giving them whatever it takes to be creative. Laszlo Bock, Google’s SVP of People Operations said, “Nurturing the people in your organization doesn’t require expensive perks or touchy-feely gimmicks. It’s about motivating, engaging and listening – and it can work for anybody.” Google motivates their people to produce high impact results by letting them interact with each other and by giving them space for creativity. Google surveys their employees and managers for leadership deficiencies and corrects them before it is too late.
Finally, if I have an offer to work at any of these three companies, I will choose Google for sure. I believe Google is following the three pillars of a happy work environment:
- Autonomy: No micromanagement
- Competence: Ability to perform skillfully and have an effect on the environment
- Relatedness and relevance: Ability to see the big picture and how your work contributes to that picture
Any successful work environment should have these three pillars, and it does not matter how you apply them whether you use Zappos’ or Google’s management style.
What do you think? Who would you work for?
This blog is published every week on Saturday before 10:00 pm. US Eastern time. Thank you for reading my blog. I would love to hear from you.