In Part 1 of this series (https://quantumleaders.com/is-amazon-a-livi…anization-part-1/), we looked at how Amazon achieves their phenomenal success by relentlessly staying focused and living their Soulful Purpose™, which Is to make life easier for people to get what they want.
This is one of the core principles for how a living organization creates the outcomes they want, to relentlessly focus on and live their Soulful Purpose. Another principle we shared was the importance of knowing how to apply your unique abilities to the environment you operate in, in ways no one else can.
In this article, I want to take up another core principle. There is no one size fits all, there is not just one way to operate and organize for success, especially when it comes to the needs of people.
In the New York Times article on Amazon “Prime Mover: How Amazon Wove Itself into the Life of an American City” (https://tinyurl.com/uc5s73y), they describe many of Amazon’s employee practices. In the section of the article titled “A New Kind of Assembly Line,” they describe how Amazon is utilizing technology alongside people to make the warehouse one of the most productive and efficient in the world.
The article describes an environment where people are timed by machine for how long each task takes (Fredrick Taylor would be in awe of what they can do to measure worker productivity). It describes how if you don’t make your numbers, the computer will automatically issue written warnings and on the third one, you will be terminated. One employee was quoted as saying, “The machines determine so much. You’re clocked from beginning to end. They grind through people.”
In the last article we shared how a living organization, like a person, can have unhealthy patterns of behavior. Is Amazon a healthy living organization? Should other companies emulate Amazon’s practices to achieve the success they want?
The simple answer is no! But not for the reason you might think.
I have always said that there is not one right way to accomplish something. Your company is not Amazon, you do not have the same Soulful Purpose™ and you don’t operate in the same environment. You must find the right organization structure and operation that allows you to maximize your contribution within the environment you operate.
There is also no one right organization for everyone. Some people need and thrive in highly structured environments: other need and thrive in highly creative, open environments.
In my first management position, I had to terminate a very technically competent technician. He was so technically competent that in his new position, he rose from technician to regional service manager in less than three years. Why would I terminate such a competent person?
At HP, our Customer Engineers were out in the field with the responsibility to ensure they not only knew how to fix the computer system, they also had to fix the customer. This required them to deal with the relationship issues as well as the failing computer. It required skills beyond just the technical skills. It required interpersonal skills and a level of maturity to deal with the complexities of relationships.
While this individual had the appropriate technical skills, he could not handle the dynamics of the relationship challenges. He became anxious and frustrated. One day he blacked out driving back to the office because of a particularly difficult customer situation.
At his new position, he did not have to go onsite. The customers brought their equipment to his offices. The complex relationship dynamics were significantly less, and his technical skills allowed him to shine. In one environment, the individual was not only failing, he almost killed himself. In a different environment, he flourished.
Amazon needs high levels of efficiency to do what it does, so it relies heavily on technology and very structured environments. There are many people for whom this is an ideal place to work. “When I first came here, I thought, ‘I’m not good enough for Amazon,’” said one employee. But after a year, she was asked to become an “ambassador,” helping out newer colleagues.
Some workers thrive despite the pace. “The day goes by quick. All these other people go to the gym. Amazon pays me to stay in shape.”
Some see a path to advancement. Samaira is already a leader among the employees trained to work with the warehouse robots. Asked where she saw herself in 10 years, she replied, “Running an Amazon building like this one.”
It is often said, there is someone that is just right for you. The same is true of a living organization. There are people who will flourish in one environment while others will feel stressed or constrained and bored in the same environment.
I have often used the metaphors – you do not teach calculus to someone who hasn’t learned algebra; you do not give the keys to the car to a 5-year-old. The same holds true for configuring your operating environment. You do not put someone in a self-managing environment or an open creative environment who does not have the level of development and maturity to handle it. Nor do you put people with well developed creative skills in a mechanically intense environment.
That is why we created The Living Organization® Maturity Matrix™ and Execution Performance Assessment™. It is important to know what the right structure is, the right balance of decentralization and autonomy versus centralization of control for your environment and purpose. The right mix that allows you to successfully execute the vision you have and make the impact your organization is here to make.
Is Amazon an awful employer ? For some yes, for others they are great. It’s all about the context and the fit.