Interesting days for studying organisational culture

These are interesting days for those studying organisational culture or are just interested in this field. It all started this weekend when the NY Times published: Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace. The newspaper that won 117 Pulitzer Prices devoted two reporters for six months to this article that is very critical on the organisation culture at Amazon.com. The article was said to be based on interviews with more than 100 current and former Amazon employees.

A lot of reactions focussed on the bias of the NY Times article. An Amazonian posted a respons on LinkedIn . This post can be seen as a a point-by-point rebuttal.

Amazon is a big company, and gets referenced often. I’ve read many articles that describe us. Some are more accurate than others. Sadly, this isn’t one of them. This particular article, has so many inaccuracies (some clearly deliberate), that, as an Amazonian, and a proud one at that, I feel compelled to respond.

The NY Times gave room for the view of Jeff Bezos and other Amazonians as it published Jeff Bezos and Amazon Employees Join Debate Over Its Culture. And of course there is an internal memo from Jeff Bezos (that can be found at the end of this page and on Medium):

Jeff Bezos:

… The NYT article prominently features anecdotes describing shockingly callous management practices, including people being treated without empathy while enduring family tragedies and serious health problems. The article doesn’t describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day. But if you know of any stories like those reported, I want you to escalate to HR. You can also email me directly atjeff@amazon.com. Even if it’s rare or isolated, our tolerance for any such lack of empathy needs to be zero. …

The case study continues

That’s were our study of organisational culture continues: Where’s the truth? Is Amazon.com the hell in Seattle? How does this large influential company really behave and does it live up to it’s values. Since the company published its leadership principles we know what it uses to judge itself (or at least says it should use).

Several articles and posts tried to discover the point of view that is closest to the truth (if there is one). GeekWire spoke with a wide range (so probably not the over 100 that NY Times did) of current and former employees to get their take on the story and their insights into the company. It offers a more balanced view. And more and more it becomes clear that perception is everything.

Journalistic questions about The Times’ exposé

And there are other questions to be asked when looking into this matter. That is just what Jeff Jarvis (known by me for his book What would Google do?, but there is more) does in his article Hacking Through Amazon’s Jungle of Coverage.

  • The NY Times article isn’t transparant to what standard is Amazon being held.
  • Another problem to Jarvis is that The Times should have presented enough of conflicting evidence so that we could weigh evidence and decide for ourselves.
  • The Times did not say until halfway down its very long piece that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post, which some say is closing in on The Times.

And as Jarvis states:

… one starts to believe The Times might have an agenda, one is left trying to suss out what it might be: against Amazon and its owner, Bezos, who is a competitor; against technology, a direction too much of media is taking…

So the discussion moves to how well the NY Times did on this article and moves away from what should be the focus: issues that arise from high demanding work / work places.

And what did it show me?

Reading all the quotes and soundbites of former and current employees I once again realised that perception is everything. It is not just the NY Times that wasn’t clear to what standards Amazon.com is being judges, none of the employees are clear on this either. What are their expectations of their employer?
And I don’t have SMART criteria either. I tend to benchmark my current employer to previous ones and to my impression of how it is like to work at other organisations. Besides that I’ve been working for smaller companies, I think that I could quite easy come up with former colleagues that were let go that would either bash the work place and it’s culture or to some level agree that there wasn’t a good enough fit.

That leaves me with the question how to deal with the issues that could arise from high demanding work places? What are the issues (in specific cases)? Are there ways of organising or designing an organisation to deal with these? Could we train people to handle the issues we can’t find counter measures for? Please share your thought in the comments…

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