You walk out of a conference room and you’ll see a grown man covering his face. Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.
—FORMER AMAZON EMPLOYEE, AS QUOTED BY THE NEW YORK TIMES1
Based on this quote, you might assume that we find ecommerce behemoth Amazon.com to be a cesspit of tyrannical bosses and downtrodden employees. Not so. We actually want to call your attention to the fact that, though it may seem counterintuitive, Seattle’s non-coffee flagship corporation is one of the best in the world at building an aligned, engaged workforce.
Confused? Let us explain.
First, return with us to the thrilling days of yesteryear—to be exact, August 15, 2015, when the New York Times ran a bombshell feature that brought the polarizing story of Amazon’s internal environment to the public. In it, two reporters paint a grotesque portrait of a corporate Hunger Games in which employees are pushed to (and often beyond) their limits, encouraged to sabotage each other, and, in more than one reported case, treated with stunning indifference in the wake of devastating life events and illnesses.
The result is a workplace guided by what one ex-employee called “purposeful Darwinism,” where the weak or ill-suited are weeded out by the simple, merciless Amazon imperative: Become more excellent every day or perish. But at what cost? The Times story makes some of that cost clear, citing examples of employees being put ...