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Jeff Bezos To Social Cohesion: Drop Dead

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Stone notes that the people who do best at the company can thrive in the adversarial atmosphere. Rather than brainstorming their way into groupthink, Bezos has a built an engine of argument:

Bezos abhors what he calls “social cohesion,” the natural impulse to seek consensus. He’d rather his minions battle it out backed by numbers and passion, and he has codified this approach in one of Amazon’s 14 leadership principles—the company’s highly prized values that are often discussed and inculcated into new hires:

Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit. Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.

Amazon sounds like a dreadful place to work: You're forced to fight in the thunderdome for Bezos love.

That Amazon ranks 11 in the list of Best Places to Work in Seattle tells the story.  You'd think it would be #1.

No way. Microsoft has more perks, Starbucks is more relaxed, and the Seattle Seahawks are winners!

I have to plus 1 Bezos on this, people keep conflating a good workplace and team with a Quaker meeting--there's also a difference between start-up culture that bleeds change and needs more consensus building to keep the team together and large corporate behemoths, like Amazon, with bureaucratic sclerosis trying to stay flexible, relevant and innovative.

The key is respectful adversarial passion set to advance unreasonable beliefs of what has yet to be tried and is likely to work better.  This is called innovation.  It is always the way forward and the path of progress depends upon it, i.e. as Shaw's unreasonable man quote denotes.  

Progress means changing the status quo not getting greater consensus about it, and if other than glacial rates of change matter for companies, one might need to exercise adversarial arguments and adopt quick resolutions before everyone else is ready to do so in order to get there.  It's just the way it is and that's why we have the term "executive decision"--someone has to lead.  At least some of the time.

Plus being number 11 is pretty damn good for college football, and Bezos is competing at far more higher stakes and still besting all others in the field except for 10.  I'll happily bank that accomplishment any day.

IN SEATTLE, not in the USA.  11 in SEATTLE.  Given Amazon's  resources, that's abysmal.  Maybe, like their company's earnings, employees are looking for their reward in ..... heaven?

out of how many?

Given Amazon's resources, 11 is abysmal.  Maybe their employees are expecting their reward for long-suffering to rise with their company's earnings, in 10 years or so .... or in heaven.

My only positive point about Bezos and Amazon was a general principle I always "plus 1" everywhere: divergent thinking bests consensus mindsets on all work teams.  I'm fond of that as a generalized company value; of course there are exceptions for every principle given specific contexts and challenges at points in time.


As to the quality of Amazon's resources and how they cultivate company leadership talent, workplace environment and employee treatment... Hmmm, I really don't know and can't say what any reasonable ratios of revenues or net profits expended per employee benefits should be for any company.  Is there a standard here that puts Amazon into the abysmal category?  Would be cool to know.


And why is 11th place in Seattle so abysmal for Seattle's standards?  Honestly, I don't think I could handle working year round for Amazon in Seattle: the weather alone would suck all joie de vivre right out of me and Amazon out of any top ten ranking on my work satisfaction survey.


Maybe we could agree that 11th place ranks poor, relatively speaking, if it's a 15 company Seattle race, but judging Amazon as abysmal in absolute terms is hard to reconcile with these type employee benefits (in or out of the first world) they publish on their website, unless they are outright lies:


"But we also recognize that Amazonians have a life outside of work and need a break every once in a while. That's why we provide a full range of benefits for you and your eligible family members. While the benefits may vary slightly from location to location, these are the basics for full-time, U.S. employees: 

Health Care:A choice of four medical plans, including prescription drug coverage, designed to meet your individual needs, with domestic partner coverageDental planVision planCompany-paid basic life and accident coverage as well as optional coverage at a low costCompany-paid short- and long-term disability planEmployee assistance program including dependent-care referral services and financial/legal servicesHealth-care and dependent-care flexible spending accounts

Time Off:Salaried employees earn two weeks of vacation time in the first year, three weeks of vacation in the secondHourly employees earn 40 hours of vacation time in the first year, 80 hours in the secondSix personal days every year in addition to six holidays

Savings Plans:401(k) savings plan with a company matchSeveral employee discount programs

Employee Stock:Most Amazon employees receive Amazon Restricted Stock Units

Relocation Assistance:Amazon may provide relocation assistance for certain positions. (Ask your interviewer whether the position is eligible for relocation assistance.) We have partnered with a world-class relocation service provider to make sure your relocation is as stress-free as possible. Our service provider will assist you with real-estate and destination services to find just the right new location for you. Dependent upon the type and level of position you're offered, Amazon may also provide you with the following benefits: Packing, unpacking, and moving of your personal goods and carFully furnished temporary housing, which will include maid service, utilities, and parkingStorage for your personal itemsRental or real-estate tours to assist you with finding a new residenceA rental car until your personal car arrivesRelocation allowance to assist you with incidental expensesPayment of part of the tax liability incurred with most of your taxable relocation expenses

Please talk to your recruiter during your on-site interview about the specific relocation benefits available for the position of interest. Note: relocation benefits are not available for hourly positions."


And in global terms simply getting a livable wage job in Seattle (or in any first world city) in today's economy is something of a lottery winning success that 99% of all the world's employees will never enjoy.  Any company offering a livable wage at equitable, hipster city community standards is well above abysmal, at least in objective terms.  

Would be interesting to learn what workplace dissatisfaction really means across the spread of Seattle companies...  what is it that Seattle employees most bitch about as workplace complaints and job dissatisfaction--no latte bar in the employee cafeteria, maybe too many of them?

It can't be the above benefits package... or can it?

PS  I don't own Amazon stock, but I am an Amazon Prime member, mostly for streaming videos... and will throw bones at local independent booksellers if Amazon is not WAY cheaper.

I'm glad to hear Amazon employees have prescripription drug coverage, because anti-anxiety drugs can be very expensive!

Haha--I was more excited about the dental!  That and eye coverage are hard to come by... even with Obamacare.  And then there's this about innovation, which I've found to be consistent across many organizations in my work:

"Some employees dig the confrontational culture and "couldn't work effectively anywhere else," Stone says. But why might the confrontation be so constructive?

Agreement feels good--hey, we get along great!--but it's not the best for innovation. Why? Because if everybody has the same idea, then you only have one idea.

So if you want more ideas, you need to disagree, which is why partnering with someone who has an opposite work-style or background from you is so effective: Since your perspectives address different areas, you won't duplicate your work. It's a confrontational, constructive form of diversity.

Bottom Line: Inside Amazon, constant friction begets creative tension."

I think there is a difference between having an adversarial culture and people feeling free (or even _encouraged_) to bring independent thinking to the table. It sounds like the Amazon way might be at the expense of a pleasant work environment.

Yeah, agreed Mark and perhaps no way to know at this distance, as the above article is more about why confrontational styles might be so productive in the workplace.

The same article does seem to suggest that Bezos could be considered an autocratic asshole, and if the complaint is about leadership then I'm more encouraged to look at working directly with such founder personalities of gigantic successes, either from the inside or outside, in this way:


-Bezos is an icon and probably a person that any of 96,990 out of 97,000 Amazon employees would die to be able to work with daily, as the desire to be in the inner circle of power and the pay grade that goes with it is always a durable ambition for any rank and file or large oragnizations; and,

-If such employees are competent and important enough to work with Bezos on a day to day basis (and thereby suffer his direct and possibly withering personality) then they're probably earning well above livable wages and, like most sports stars, should realize this quirky founder personality abuse comes with the territory... so I'd say, "just shut the f*&% up, quit your bitching and get back to work earning your incredibly high pay grade!"


But perhaps the complaints are really all about the rank and file culture at Amazon outside of such experiences, whereby again, we simply don't know how the rank and file fare there since it's not part of the offering here, other than they're ranking Amazon 11th in Seattle for whatever unknown reasons, which could be really major or minor in absolute terms.


Maybe Amazon could be a central character on another episode of Portlandia...

"Maybe Amazon could be a central character on another episode of Portlandia..."


Might objective measures used to guage the health of a company's human resources, like employee turnover and data gathered at exit interviews, reveal Amazon's strengths and weaknesses?  


You can always get a greater opportunity for more, or better, of whatever you decide to measure... or less, if you're trying to make things go away (e.g. illness, illiteracy, etc.).

For relativism to achieve a meaningful status of an objective measure we would have to reach some explicit valuation of what's a strength and what's a weakness, and this is best decided by Amazon's various vested interests or, and I hate this term, "stakeholders":


-company management & board


-operating partners





ESG (environment, social and corporate governance) standards attempt this, as does TBL (triple bottom line) investing and a whole raft of other middling composite approaches to VALUING the holistic meaning of an enterprise.  There are few to no working standards here, but as these number of emerging approaches continue to evolve, hopefully we'll keep getting better at knowing whether or not Amazon is a worthy company for all the internalities and externalities it creates...

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