Due to the recent New York Times article regarding its workplace culture and human resources practices at Amazon, one of the world’s largest companies has received very negative publicity. The article focused on the fact that Amazon appears to be more interested in company performance than the needs of its employees. This criticism may be accurate, and every company has the right to determine the values and the culture that will benefit them the most. Many have stated that Amazon’s success may be due to its intense focus on performance and innovation. If that is the case, there is no problem with its focus on these areas, but I thought it was particularly interesting that Jeff Bezos, the CEO, wrote in his public response to the article that it “doesn’t describe the Amazon I know”. If the accounts of many employees are accurate, there is a discrepancy between how the leader and the employees view the workplace. In my view, one of the key learnings for leaders is to determine whether they have an accurate view of their workplace and how employee situations are managed.
One of the key ways many companies communicate how they want to operate is developing company operating principles or value statements. These are great tools, but in reality, I believe employees learn a company’s culture and values through experience. This is especially true regarding how employee relations issues are resolved. During my corporate career, I was involved in several reductions in force (RIF’s) or downsizing. In one company, we developed guidelines for these situations which focused on communicating appropriately with employees and helping affected employees as much as possible. Although these policies focused on treating the employees appropriately, they also sent a strong message to all employees regarding senior leadership and how the company valued its people.
So, how can a leader determine if there is alignment between a company’s values and its actions? There are several alternatives. One of the most thorough ways is to conduct an employee engagement survey. Another simpler method is to select 5-10 recent employee relations events, such as performance issues, employee complaints, terminations or resignations and determine if the process, decision-making and outcomes accurately reflected the company’s espoused values and principles. Input for reviewing these situations could come from other leaders, human resources and employees. After all the data is collected, the leader or leaders can review and determine if they believe there is misalignment and if they consider it a problem for their company. This process does not take much time, but provides a leader with insight into the company’s actions that they may not typically see. If needed, the leader can then take appropriate steps to make corrections.
It is unknown whether the New York Times article will cause any change in Amazon’s management practices, but it has highlighted the need for alignment of its leadership and employees view of the workplace. Are your leaders and employee’s view of the workplace aligned?