On August 15, last year, The New York Times had in an article called ‘Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace’ accused the company of pushing its employees too far to achieve unrelenting ambitions. The article portrayed Amazon as putting up standards which were ‘unreasonably’ high and using employees to use tools to ‘sabotage’ each other resembling ‘Hunger games’. The ‘purposeful Darwinism was so bad that even employees suffering from miscarriages and cancer were given undue feedback without been given time to recover. Amazon seems to have come a long way from being an intricate machine propelling CEO Jeff Bezos ‘ever-expanding’ ambitions, to making some key changes in the way the company functions. According to reports, Amazon has said that it is overhauling the review process that is done by the company annually. It says that the review is more simplistic as it works on the strengths rather than the weakness of its employees, and eventually building on the program.
Amazon reportedly has been using an employee rating system which ranks them as low or high-level performers, which is a very draconian management technique, earlier used in the tech world. But while most of the companies in the Silicon Valley have done away with it, Amazon could not let go of the system. While critics might call the recent announcement as a PR activity and the same process might continue, but the way Jeff Bezos works, the plan just might have been well-thought by him before making the announcement.
But putting aside what the mechanism’s fortune turn out to be, this move does give out some business lessons for us all. The most important lessons being how Bezos showed amazing emotional intelligence by understanding the article and criticism and acting upon it. Some may consider it a change, too late, but Bezos made some quick responses when the story came out as well, even though he felt the article in NYT was unduly biased. He reportedly told his employees that he does not identify the picture of Amazon that was portrayed and hoped his employees did not as well. He also asked his employees to read the NYT story. Such an overwhelming need for further goals can lead a company to scale back its ambitions or softening its stance.
But we as outsiders cannot in any way know what it is like working for a company like Amazon unless the 3 lakh people who work for the company let the world know. However, this announcement and the first reaction by Jeff Bezos show the abilities that the founder has, that is, to learn from feedback and act on them rather than relying on emotions, no matter the viability of the implications. It is an attitude to imbibe.
To understand this more, one has to think from the perspective of a founder- especially the founder of the world’s biggest online retailer. Bezos has invested so much of his life in his company, and when you give it your all, it is not easy to understand the criticism, leave alone accepting it and acting upon it. The reason being, when you are so big, there has to be some truth in all feedback, and all you can to is either run when the dirt hits the fan or accept and learn from it. Emotional intelligence is one of the most important qualities to have in general and as a leader, as it opens up new avenues to benefit from. At the same time, this means that your criticism should also be sincere and substantial instead of just being hurtful, as nobody benefits in the larger scheme of things.
But if you do get hurtful feedback, rather than trying to correct the person you did it, you must use it as a chance to improve, at least that is what Jeff teaches us.