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Lecture 17

REL 0811 Lecture 17: Inside Amazon Wrestling big ideas in a bruising workplace

16 Pages
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Department
Religion
Course Code
REL 0811
Professor
Travis Navarro Travis

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Inside Amazon Wrestling big ideas in a bruising workplace
The company is conducting an experiment in how far it can push
white-collar workers to get them to achieve its ever-expanding ambitions.
By JODI KANTOR and DAVID STREITFELDAUG. 15, 2015
SEATTLE On Monday mornings, fresh recruits line up for an
orientation intended to catapult them into Amazon’s singular way of
working.
They are told to forget the “poor habits” they learned at previous jobs, one
employee recalled. When they “hit the wall” from the unrelenting pace,
there is only one solution: “Climb the wall,” others reported. To be the
best Amazonians they can be, they should be guided by the leadership
principles, 14 rules inscribed on handy laminated cards. When quizzed
days later, those with perfect scores earn a virtual award proclaiming,
“I’m Peculiar” — the company’s proud phrase for overturning workplace
conventions.
At Amazon, workers are encouraged to tear apart one another’s ideas in
meetings, toil long and late (emails arrive past midnight, followed by text
messages asking why they were not answered), and held to standards that
the company boasts are “unreasonably high.” The internal phone directory
instructs colleagues on how to send secret feedback to one another’s
bosses. Employees say it is frequently used to sabotage others. (The tool
offers sample texts, including this: “I felt concerned about his inflexibility
and openly complaining about minor tasks.”)
Many of the newcomers filing in on Mondays may not be there in a few
years. The company’s winners dream up innovations that they roll out to a
quarter-billion customers and accrue small fortunes in soaring stock.
Losers leave or are fired in annual cullings of the staff “purposeful
Darwinism,” one former Amazon human resources director said. Some
workers who suffered from cancer, miscarriages and other personal crises
said they had been evaluated unfairly or edged out rather than given time
to recover.
Even as the company tests delivery by drone and ways to restock toilet
paper at the push of a bathroom button, it is conducting a little-known
experiment in how far it can push white-collar workers, redrawing the
boundaries of what is acceptable. The company, founded and still run by
Jeff Bezos, rejects many of the popular management bromides that other
corporations at least pay lip service to and has instead designed what
many workers call an intricate machine propelling them to achieve Mr.
Bezos’ ever-expanding ambitions.
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“This is a company that strives to do really big, innovative,
groundbreaking things, and those things aren’t easy,” said Susan Harker,
Amazon’s top recruiter. “When you’re shooting for the moon, the nature
of the work is really challenging. For some people it doesn’t work.”
Bo Olson was one of them. He lasted less than two years in a book
marketing role and said that his enduring image was watching people
weep in the office, a sight other workers described as well. “You walk out
of a conference room and you’ll see a grown man covering his face,” he
said. “Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.”
Thanks in part to its ability to extract the most from employees, Amazon
is stronger than ever. Its swelling campus is transforming a swath of this
city, a 10-million-square-foot bet that tens of thousands of new workers
will be able to sell everything to everyone everywhere. Last month, it
eclipsed Walmart as the most valuable retailer in the country, with a
market valuation of $250 billion, and Forbes deemed Mr. Bezos the fifth-
wealthiest person on earth.
Tens of millions of Americans know Amazon as customers, but life inside
its corporate offices is largely a mystery. Secrecy is required; even low-
level employees sign a lengthy confidentiality agreement. The company
authorized only a handful of senior managers to talk to reporters for this
article, declining requests for interviews with Mr. Bezos and his top
leaders.
“Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.”
Bo Olson, worked in books marketing
However, more than 100 current and former Amazonians members of
the leadership team, human resources executives, marketers, retail
specialists and engineers who worked on projects from the Kindle to
grocery delivery to the recent mobile phone launch described how they
tried to reconcile the sometimes-punishing aspects of their workplace with
what many called its thrilling power to create.
In interviews, some said they thrived at Amazon precisely because it
pushed them past what they thought were their limits. Many employees
are motivated by “thinking big and knowing that we haven’t scratched the
surface on what’s out there to invent,” said Elisabeth Rommel, a retail
executive who was one of those permitted to speak.
Others who cycled in and out of the company said that what they learned
in their brief stints helped their careers take off. And more than a few who
fled said they later realized they had become addicted to Amazon’s way of
working.
find more resources at oneclass.com
find more resources at oneclass.com
“A lot of people who work there feel this tension: It’s the greatest place I
hate to work,” said John Rossman, a former executive there who
published a book, “The Amazon Way.
“It would certainly be much easier and socially cohesive to just compromise and not
debate, but that may lead to the wrong decision.”
Tony Galbato, Amazon vice president for human resources
Amazon may be singular but perhaps not quite as peculiar as it claims. It
has just been quicker in responding to changes that the rest of the work
world is now experiencing: data that allows individual performance to be
measured continuously, come-and-go relationships between employers
and employees, and global competition in which empires rise and fall
overnight. Amazon is in the vanguard of where technology wants to take
the modern office: more nimble and more productive, but harsher and less
forgiving.
“Organizations are turning up the dial, pushing their teams to do more for
less money, either to keep up with the competition or just stay ahead of
the executioner’s blade,” said Clay Parker Jones, a consultant who helps
old-line businesses become more responsive to change.
On a recent morning, as Amazon’s new hires waited to begin orientation,
few of them seemed to appreciate the experiment in which they had
enrolled. Only one, Keith Ketzle, a freckled Texan triathlete with an
M.B.A., lit up with recognition, explaining how he left his old, lumbering
company for a faster, grittier one.
“Conflict brings about innovation,” he said.
A PHILOSOP H Y OF WOR K
Jeff Bezos turned to data-driven management very early.
He wanted his grandmother to stop smoking, he recalled in a
2010graduation speech at Princeton. He didn’t beg or appeal to sentiment.
He just did the math, calculating that every puff cost her a few minutes.
“You’ve taken nine years off your life!” he told her. She burst into tears.
He was 10 at the time. Decades later, he created a technological and retail
giant by relying on some of the same impulses: eagerness to tell others
how to behave; an instinct for bluntness bordering on confrontation; and
an overarching confidence in the power of metrics, buoyed by his
experience in the early 1990s at D. E. Shaw, a financial firm that
find more resources at oneclass.com
find more resources at oneclass.com

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Description
InsideAmazon Wrestling big ideas in a bruising workplace The company is conducting an experiment in how far it can push white-collar workers to get them to achieve its ever-expanding ambitions. By JODI KANTOR and DAVID STREITFELDAUG. 15, 2015 SEATTLE On Monday mornings, fresh recruits line up for an orientation intended to catapult them into Amazons singular way of working. They are told to forget the poor habits they learned at previous jobs, one employee recalled. When they hit the wall from the unrelenting pace, there is only one solution: Climb the wall, others reported. To be the best Amazonians they can be, they should be guided by the leadership principles, 14 rules inscribed on handy laminated cards. When quizzed days later, those with perfect scores earn a virtual award proclaiming, Im Peculiar the companys proud phrase for overturning workplace conventions. At Amazon, workers are encouraged to tear apart one anothers ideas in meetings, toil long and late (emails arrive past midnight, followed by text messages asking why they were not answered), and held to standards that the company boasts are unreasonably high. The internal phone directory instructs colleagues on how to send secret feedback to one anothers bosses. Employees say it is frequently used to sabotage others. (The tool offers sample texts, including this: I felt concerned about his inflexibility and openly complaining about minor tasks.) Many of the newcomers filing in on Mondays may not be there in a few years. The companys winners dream up innovations that they roll out to a quarter-billion customers and accrue small fortunes in soaring stock. Losers leave or are fired in annual cullings of the staff purposeful Darwinism, one former Amazon human resources director said. Some workers who suffered from cancer, miscarriages and other personal crises said they had been evaluated unfairly or edged out rather than given time to recover. Even as the company tests delivery by drone and ways to restock toilet paper at the push of a bathroom button, it is conducting a little-known experiment in how far it can push white-collar workers, redrawing the boundaries of what is acceptable. The company, founded and still run by Jeff Bezos, rejects many of the popular management bromides that other corporations at least pay lip service to and has instead designed what many workers call an intricate machine propelling them to achieve Mr. Bezos ever-expanding ambitions. This is a company that strives to do really big, innovative, groundbreaking things, and those things arent easy, said Susan Harker, Amazons top recruiter. When youre shooting for the moon, the nature of the work is really challenging. For some people it doesnt work. Bo Olson was one of them. He lasted less than two years in a book marketing role and said that his enduring image was watching people weep in the office, a sight other workers described as well. You walk out of a conference room and youll see a grown man covering his face, he said. Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk. Thanks in part to its ability to extract the most from employees, Amazon is stronger than ever. Its swelling campus is transforming a swath of this city, a 10-million-square-foot bet that tens of thousands of new workers will be able to sell everything to everyone everywhere. Last month, it eclipsed Walmart as the most valuable retailer in the country, with a market valuation of $250 billion, and Forbes deemed Mr. Bezos the fifth- wealthiest person on earth. Tens of millions of Americans know Amazon as customers, but life inside its corporate offices is largely a mystery. Secrecy is required; even low- level employees sign a lengthy confidentiality agreement. The company authorized only a handful of senior managers to talk to reporters for this article, declining requests for interviews with Mr. Bezos and his top leaders. Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk. Bo Olson, worked in books marketing However, more than 100 current and former Amazonians members of the leadership team, human resources executives, marketers, retail specialists and engineers who worked on projects from the Kindle to grocery delivery to the recent mobile phone launch described how they tried to reconcile the sometimes-punishing aspects of their workplace with what many called its thrilling power to create. In interviews, some said they thrived at Amazon precisely because it pushed them past what they thought were their limits. Many employees are motivated by thinking big and knowing that we havent scratched the surface on whats out there to invent, said Elisabeth Rommel, a retail executive who was one of those permitted to speak. Others who cycled in and out of the company said that what they learned in their brief stints helped their careers take off. And more than a few who fled said they later realized they had become addicted to Amazons way of working. A lot of people who work there feel this tension: Its the greatest place I hate to work, said John Rossman, a former executive there who published a book, The Amazon Way. It would certainly be much easier and socially cohesive to just compromise and not debate, but that may lead to the wrong decision. Tony Galbato, Amazon vice president for human resources Amazon may be singular but perhaps not quite as peculiar as it claims. It has just been quicker in responding to changes that the rest of the work world is now experiencing: data that allows individual performance to be measured continuously, come-and-go relationships between employers and employees, and global competition in which empires rise and fall overnight. Amazon is in the vanguard of where technology wants to take the modern office: more nimble and more productive, but harsher and less forgiving. Organizations are turning up the dial, pushing their teams to do more for less money, either to keep up with the competition or just stay ahead of the executioners blade, said Clay Parker Jones, a consultant who helps old-line businesses become more responsive to change. On a recent morning, as Amazons new hires waited to begin orientation, few of them seemed to appreciate the experiment in which they had enrolled. Only one, Keith Ketzle, a freckled Texan triathlete with an M.B.A., lit up with recognition, explaining how he left his old, lumbering company for a faster, grittier one. Conflict brings about innovation, he said. A PHILOSOPHY OF WORK Jeff Bezos turned to data-driven management very early. He wanted his grandmother to stop smoking, he recalled in a 2010graduation speech at Princeton. He didnt beg or appeal to sentiment. He just did the math, calculating that every puff cost her a few minutes. Youve taken nine years off your life! he told her. She burst into tears. He was 10 at the time. Decades later, he created a technological and retail giant by relying on some of the same impulses: eagerness to tell others how to behave; an instinct for bluntness bordering on confrontation; and an overarching confidence in the power of metrics, buoyed by his experience in the early 1990s at D. E. Shaw, a financial firm that overturned Wall Street convention by using algorithms to get the most out of every trade. According to early executives and employees, Mr. Bezos was determined almost from the moment he founded Amazon in 1994 to resist the forces he thought sapped businesses over time bureaucracy, profligate spending, lack of rigor. As the company grew, he wanted to codify his ideas about the workplace, some of them proudly counterintuitive, into instructions simple enough for a new worker to understand, general enough to apply to the nearly limitless number of businesses he wanted to enter and stringent enough to stave off the mediocrity he feared. The result was the leadership principles, the articles of faith that describe the way Amazonians should act. In contrast to companies where declarations about their philosophy amount to vague platitudes, Amazon has rules that are part of its daily language and rituals, used in hiring, cited at meetings and quoted in food-truck lines at lunchtime. Some Amazonians say they teach them to their children. The guidelines conjure an empire of elite workers (principle No. 5: Hire and develop the best) who hold one another to towering expectations and are liberated from the forces red tape, office politics that keep them from delivering their utmost. Employees are to exhibit ownership (No. 2), or mastery of every element of their businesses, and dive deep, (No. 12) or find the underlying ideas that can fix problems
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