How Amazon’s ‘Leadership Principles’ Really Work
If you’ve followed Amazon in the news at all during the last 20 years, no doubt you’ve read endless plaudits in the various business journals about their so-called Leadership Principles: how they guide everything that the company does; that they hire the best and brightest; they obsess over customers; blah, blah, blah.
Sadly, but not surprisingly, none of those things are true. Not. Even. Close.
I know this because I actually worked for Amazon for awhile. And although my job was challenging and satisfying to me, it had its share of problems that could have been solved if only “Leadership” (the people supposedly in charge of running the asylum) was as smart as they believe themselves to be. But they weren’t then, and they aren’t now; the people I encountered on a daily basis were so resistant to changing anything that might save us time, money, and result in fewer mistakes. In other words, they suffered from the ‘Not Invented Here’ syndrome that is typical of people who don’t have a clue, and aren’t open to any ideas they didn’t invent.
I’ve heard from people at another facility that several rank and file employees devised new, more efficient ways of doing things, but the Site Leader only said they’d give it some thought, and even after nine months of reminding, and waiting, reminding, and waiting… they never heard from him again, and nothing changed. Meanwhile, the Area Managers dreamed up some cockamamie solution to a problem that didn’t exist and it cost them a lot of money to do it, every single day. So, let’s see: employees figure out ways to do things that save money, which Amazon says they want, but management does nothing and instead substitutes a way of doing something that isn’t needed and costs a lot of money. Which is better?
The first principle plastered on the wall at the facility I worked at said “Leadership does not come with rank.” In other words, it’s saying that everyone is a leader and contributes equally.
Sounds like a nice, egalitarian principle, but it’s complete bullshit. Leadership is actually confined to people in Level 4 or higher jobs; everyone below that is not, by definition, a leader because they’re not part of “management.” And that’s the essence of the contradiction: if everyone is a leader, then everyone is supposedly empowered to change things to work for the better. But as shown time and time again, the only people who can actually make those changes happen are in management jobs; i.e., Site Leaders. Nobody else can contribute anything, because not only would they probably not do it, you’d probably get no credit for it even if they did do it.
Does Amazon “raise the bar” with every new hire? Far from it; they actually hire people fresh out of college with no experience and none of the qualifications of an Area Manager job and put them in it. And a management job is the gift that keeps on giving: remember that Site Leader I mentioned three paragraphs ago? He didn’t even last a full year at that site, and then he was allowed to transfer to another management job, which he also had no qualifications for. Nice work if you can get.
For anyone else in a non-management role to get that job, they’d be held to the actual qualifications listed in the job description. That’s a double standard.
The reason Amazon prefers to hire newbies out of college (or within 4 years out of college) and Veterans for management jobs? It’s not because they’re better than other candidates with more experience; it’s because they’re easier to indoctrinate to the Amazon way of doing things, including things that are immoral or just plain wrong. Veterans go through basic training, which is the military’s way of ‘breaking you down so they can build you back up’, so they view the Amazon process as essentially the same, and all morals are abandoned in fealty to the great King Bezos.
Another glaring problem they have is that nobody knows what Amazon wants to be, because Amazon doesn’t know what it wants to be. Jeff Bezos thinks he can be a one-stop shop for everything from Acme Widgets to Zebras, but that will never happen. Antitrust regulators will break up the company first. All this AWS (Amazon Web Services) is a bubble that will burst; you can’t store everything in the ‘cloud’, and you don’t need do; it has it’s own inherent security risks that are too great to trust it. Remember that AWS outage earlier in 2018, when a single command took down large parts of AWS? That was caused by one of their ‘best and brightest’ programmers, but it wouldn’t have happened if any of them or their supervisors knew about such things called “guard rails” to prevent you from careening off a cliff, killing you and your passengers with a single errant command. We saw what happened with the Fire Phone, and now we have multiple Kindle models, Echo Dots, Alexa, etc. It’s a mess.
So don’t believe the hype about Amazon or their so-called leadership principles: it’s nothing but PR spin. Their stock price will burst, and no matter how many ‘millions’ of sales they claim every quarter, it’s all smoke and mirrors without real numbers behind those sales figures.