Why Amazon should embrace its reputation as a tough company culture

When the NYTimes published their article about Amazon’s culture several weeks ago, they started a firestorm of conversations about the nature of workplace culture. Last week we saw a continuation of the debate about Amazon’s company culture this time involving a senior executive at the company facing off with the editor of the NYTimes. First Jay Carney, Senior Vice President for Corporate Affairs at Amazon, wrote a lengthy essaywhich he published on Medium. In this essay, he attacked the veracity of the reporting in the original NYTimes article, asserting that the journalist had deliberately overlooked and left out accounts that contradicted the story of a grueling and punishing company culture at Amazon. The executive editor of the NYTimes, Dean Basquet, then published his own response and defense of the reporting also on Medium. He highlighted the sheer number of people that the Times had spoken to about their experiences, and the consistency in their perceptions of working at Amazon (regardless of whether they felt it was an overall positive or negative experience). What makes this exchange notable is how hard Amazon is working to debunk the narrative that the NYTimes created. I think this is a strategic error on their part, and they should be playing offense instead of defense.

Amazon is never going to be perceived as having a warm and fuzzy culture because that is not what they have cultivated. Attempts to repaint Amazon’s culture with a brush that highlights fun feels inauthentic. As Jay Carney pointed out in his response to the article, many people choose to work long hours and have extremely high standards for excellence. This is the point that Jay Carney and Jeff Bezos seem to be missing. Company culture isn’t a popularity contest, it’s not about appealing to everyone. You want your culture to appeal to the type of people you need to execute your strategy. If that means creating a culture that looks for people who are ready to work long hours and receive tough feedback, then seek those individuals unabashedly. Don’t take offense when some people react in a strongly negative way. Company culture is a tool to attract, select and retain the right talent. It is by definition exclusive, and not everyone will appreciate the culture you have built.

Here’s how I would present Amazon’s company culture: Amazon’s culture is defined by hard work, excellence, and opportunity. Our company is the most valuable retailer in the world because our people work hard, because our people produce results, and because we give them the opportunity to do these things on a big scale. Our company and our culture are not for everyone. We accept that many people will find this work environment challenging and unsustainable. When this happens we strive to help people transition to a new company as smoothly as possible. For those who choose to stay with Amazon, we celebrate you because we would not be the company we are today without our people. And after we are done celebrating we get back to work because that is who we are.

Originally published on Pomello.