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Welcome to the jungle: Amazon, culture and outrage in the Valley

Sharon Florentine | Sept. 10, 2015
The recent controversy surrounding Amazon's "brutal" workplace is missing some critical points about corporate culture.

amazon workplace culture

The recent New York Times piece about Amazon's 'punishing' and 'bruising' workplace has generated heated conversation about culture and values in Silicon Valley and the IT industry as a whole. But all the outrage over the exposé is missing some crucial data points in the discussion about culture.

Culture does not have a set definition

If the furor over Amazon's "bruising" and "punishing" work environment teaches us one thing, it's that "culture," while an important benchmark in attracting, hiring and retaining elite talent, is not a one-size-fits all proposition. Culture means different things to different people, and it varies widely in its interpretation from company to company.

Culture is more than just foosball tables, Wine Wednesdays and casual dress. It's about what your company prioritizes and how it uses those priorities to compete in its marketplace. That's why, faced with an incredibly competitive talent market and a widening skills gap, many organizations turn to culture interviews to find the best fits so they can reduce attrition and cut costs related to turnover.

"Your company culture should align with your business strategy, with the type of competitive environment you're in and the markets you're trying to reach," says Henry Albrecht, CEO of Seattle-based employee wellness company, Limeade.

According to Albrecht, Amazon, for example, is ubiquitous and they have to have a hard-driving, intense, performance-driven strategy to compete in all the markets they do. They compete with likes of Wal-Mart, Microsoft and Rackspace. "That's a lot of different irons in the fire," says Albrecht. "Their culture is in line with their vision, their markets and their strategy and is very consistent with their business drivers. So is ours, but our culture is very different because our customers are different."

Write your own cultural narrative

A well-defined culture is a signpost meant to attract candidates that thrive within the type of environment you create, or at least the type of environment you intend to create, and to a great extent, that is shaped by your technology, your markets and your customers. But it's also shaped internally by C-level executives and by those responsible for hiring. You have to define your culture, illustrate what success looks like for those who might want to work within that culture, and clearly set out the boundaries and expectations of work, culture and environment within your company before it takes on a life of its own.

 

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