Considering Amazon’s Culture Woes

In light of the recent NYT article outlining Amazon’s not-so-fun company culture, organizations and individuals need to re-examine what culture means and how to find out what the true culture is. There has been so much back and forth about the article being true or not – some Amazonians are touting it at truth and others are vehemently decrying it false. A recent commentary on this article and culture in general that got it spot on – while organizations want to have one overall company culture, it very much differs based upon bosses, department, groups, etc.  Turns out, subcultures do, in fact, exist.

BezosIn fact, subcultures are why leader selection is of utmost importance in avoiding culture woes. You don’t want to select the best executioner of the job tactics if your ideal culture is more about innovation. You don’t want to have a person that is too structured in their ways be the boss when the ideal culture is all about creativity and thinking outside the box. Keeping up with each part of the business is hard enough without throwing the culture component in the mix… but it is necessary if culture is important to your organization. Use the three guidelines below to take a hard look at your organization:

  • Culture is not a series of buzz words that sound good to candidates. A good company culture can be a great recruiting tool and selling point, but making up a culture TO sell to candidates is akin to false advertising. You can’t say that your culture is outside of the box and flexible and “gets your lifestyle” when you force people to be in jobs from 8:30-5 with an hour lunch and timed break. It just isn’t true. You also can’t say that collaboration is key when you have all performance metrics that point solely to individual successes. Each piece of your organization fits together in some way to produce the culture. You can’t drive a culture if there’s nothing to back it up.
  • As the article above stated, culture can vary a lot if you don’t have it at the front of mind when making every business decision. Small and large things such as raises, performance metrics, vacation time, flexible hours, meeting requirements, timecard requirements, development opportunities, supervisor support, growth opportunities and many more all play into organizational culture. If you hire a CFO who doesn’t exemplify the attributes of the workplace culture you’re trying to build, that will affect your entire finance department.  In turn, your overall culture will suffer adverse impact. The same goes for the manager of a distribution center; every hire impacts culture one way or another.  Leaders in all areas, however, have a huge impact as their actions often shape, if not create, policies and programs.  Be sure that your policies and programs align with your culture ALWAYS and re-evaluate often.
  • Culture isn’t static. It is always growing and evolving and changing. Your workforce is as well. In order to keep it positive, many points of contact are necessary.  Surveys aren’t the only answer, but they are the often the easy answer… and sometimes the lazy answer. Take it from Southwest: the CEO and leadership team work hard to see people and ensure that their culture is maintained. Having face time with your workforce is important:  meaning genuine, authentic face time. We’ve all been to town halls that did nothing but waste time while attendees listened to a ton of disingenuous buzz word and motivational quotes get shared more often than the latest pop song on a hit radio station. Effective face time requires listening.  Strong leaders observe and listen to their employees – especially the ones on the front lines. Why? Because that is where the culture lives – you can’t create it in a town hall meeting talking about big data, synergy and numbers.  Just to be clear, the CEO isn’t the only person responsible – each person on each team is responsible but the values must be first displayed by the CEO and intentionally driven into an organization by leadership. Checking in with peers or direct reports is integral to maintaining any sort of cohesive and consistent culture. Communicating what you are seeing and having that communication taken seriously is also very important. Perhaps the best possible advice one could give to Bezos is this:  You can’t fix a problem or address a need that you won’t acknowledge is even there.

Creating a positive culture has so many benefits that its easy see why organizations want to jump on the bandwagon, but cutting corners and not understanding the above can result in the opposite effect and create a negative environment for employees. In this informational age too, that can be a huge detriment to the business as employees can easily and visibly express their distaste for all current and potential employees to see.

Every hire impacts your organization’s culture.  Learn how you can make sure the candidates you’re considering are culturally compatible with Elevated Careers by eHarmony

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