17 August 2015

Amazon aims to be the ‘Everything company’ – no stranger to headlines, the multi-billion dollar corporation isn’t only recognised for its innovation and success but its questionable ethics.

Pushing the boundaries to achieve results, being wholly data driven and being built around literal and metaphorical working machines has made Amazon the company it is.

Earlier today, the New York Times delved into the company’s seemingly awful corporate practices, exploring a culture of work that reportedly practices ‘Purposeful Darwinism’ and has seen employees reduced to tears at their desks, or given low-performance evaluations off the back of a personal trauma or illness.

At first sight, its incomprehensible that such a work-force exists.

Only yesterday, I mentioned the importance of valuing your workforce – whilst recognising the need to make money and meet targets, it should never result in stretching your staff, or pushing them to breaking point.

The same applies to the recent revelations of the Amazonian work ethic.

It appears to be do or die – ruthless principles are put in place to build a team of elites who are constantly competing to be the best – in theory a strategy that will get you results?

However, when you begin to have staff feel as if their work is never good enough they will eventually burn out – when your mantra is ‘conflict encourages innovation’ you begin to dehumanise your workforce.

According to the report, Bezos stated ‘Harmony is overvalued in the workplace – it can stifle honest critique and encourage polite praise for flawed ideas’

Whilst I recognise the importance of hard work and innovation – should a leader ever achieve results at the detriment of staff wellbeing? Should employees always be made to feel as if nothing is ever good enough?

It seems simple enough, that the way to get the best out of people is not to berate them to a point of humiliation, but to encourage them to a point of self-belief. Whilst Bezos’ principles are justified by the results and figures Amazon continues to produce, I feel that this is largely done by creating a machine-like work-force, where those who break get cast aside.

Is it not possible to breed the best by letting employees know that with the right attitude they have the ability to be the best, or to create a team who encourage one another’s ability to be just that?

There are certain strategies a member of management can put in place to encourage high performance, constant effort and a solid work rate without working people like machines. I have learnt that simple praise is incredibly effective. Whereas criticism is demotivating and destructive.

The sales team at UKFast are a team that know this all too well. It’s a fast paced, goal orientated environment – but a fun one nevertheless – how is that possible?

We keep the spirit and energy high using games, rewards and incentives, always focussing on saying “well done” when people do well or try hard.

Even the most high pressured environment can be harmonious, and even the mellowest environment can be fuelled by results and ambition.

It is possible for a senior member of staff to encourage their teams with a pat on the back and a smile, without ever lowering the standards or becoming lax in their approach. It is not a case of stifling honest critique, but quite the opposite.

In the same way, it is vital to hire the right people, who are integral in creating the culture that allows this happy medium. These people I have learned, are innately helpful, hardworking and dynamic – they wouldn’t comprehend sitting idly by whilst others do work. And as a consequence there is no need to push them to breaking point.

On top of this, a flat management system establishes a feeling of equality, and also a feeling that anyone has the ability to go anywhere within the company, providing they have the desire to do so.

What also struck me most is Amazon’s disregard for employees work-life balance. In Paul Dolan’s ‘Happiness by Design’, he evaluates the importance of a balanced life – in which people who feel they have more purpose than pleasure will lead a less happy life and vice versa. Something which I believe to be very important.

Amazon’s ability to push boundaries to the limits is impressive when you look at their product development, but there is no amount of success worth having if it is at the detriment to the very people who are making it possible. You also have to ask the question, if Amazon paid the same tax as a standard UK trading business without the offshore structures, would they have developed so quickly?

But as a British businessman I am immensely proud for our contribution to the economy.

Whatever your views on Amazons progress and management style, I will always believe your team is your greatest asset and therefore should be treated as such.

Dehumanising staff is something that will haunt any business in the future as the economy grows and more choice becomes available to the workforce. Nowadays I believe people expect more and rightly so.

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