It’s Amazon’s Jay Carney versus Dean Paquet from the New York Times. Get ready to rumble!

Stop Thinking About Your Reputation If You Want To Improve It

Bing Bing Bing. It’s Round One of The Corporate Reputation Grudge Match!

Poor poor Amazon. It was just a few months ago that it was pilloried by the New York Times for being a “bruising” place to work. Anecdotes from several former employees backed up its assertion. Unfortunately, as Jay Carney, Amazon’s Senior Vice President for Corporate Affairs and former press secretary under President Obama pointed out in an article posted on Medium.com, most of the claims the article made were factually inaccurate. And while we would need to take Mr. Carney’s word for that, those of us who have worked in or continue to work in the public relations profession are all too familiar with a “slam piece” in the making. Whether it be the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fortune, or any one of the shrinking number of other influential publications, the tactics journalists follow are similar and the damage can be profound, particular in today’s whipped up social media frenzy world. The short story is they and their editors approach the article before they write it with a bias, and then go search for what they perceive as the facts to back it up. I think experts in logic call this “confirmation bias.”

The Times’ Executive Editor, Dean Baquet, subsequently defended his reporters in a response article, and what ensued this week was a back and forth grudge match for all of us to groan about. I wonder how many people changed their perspectives on either Amazon or The Times in witnessing all of this.

In my humble opinion, the original New York Times article was clearly a slam piece. Even if, as Mr. Basquet claims, they really did interview 100 current and former Amazon employees to form their conclusion, that is but a fraction of a percentage of their total estimated headcount of 150,000 employees. Now perhaps that number is statistically significant, except if the New York Times intentionally sought out disgruntled people and ignored happy campers.

Is There Fire Where There Is Smoke?

Aye, but here is the rub, in which regardless of the specific accuracy of its reporting may render The New York Times the general victor in this grudge match. If you are a member of Glassdoor, go ahead and look up Amazon. And if you’re not a Glassdoor member and work in a company with a few hundred employees or more, then by all means join it for free. Sure, as is the case with any commenting site where identities are cloaked, Glassdoor attracts people who love their employers and people who loathe them. After filtering the results for full time employees located at its Seattle headquarters, you won’t see much neutral territory. But since this is the case with all companies, one can compare Amazon to other companies in general and retailers in particular. I’ll let you be the ultimate judge of how they score comparatively. But in my opinion the verdict is not so good for the reputation of one of my absolute favorite places to shop. Former employees frequently complain about poor quality managers, a top down command and control environment, limited upward mobility, a highly demanding day-to-day scenario in which you’re frequently thrown out or at least ignored the second you stop producing stellar results, and brutally long hours with no work-life balance.

Here is a comment from a current employee who likes working at Amazon, ranking it four out of five stars as a place to work. Legend: One is very bad and five is very good.

“Beware of bad managers and horrible team mates. They are not specific to Amazon but they do exist in Amazon. I have to admit that Monday is usually a blue day at Amazon and it is very tough to look forward to getting into office. I don’t know anyone in Amazon who looks forward to getting in on Mondays.”

If I worked at Amazon, I could imagine myself saying, “Heck, I can’t believe it’s 6 a.m. on Monday already. Mother f’er! Pour me a double Jameson for some mother courage! Down the hatch, and it’s off to work we go!!”

But what if there were another way?

Instead of Caring What ‘They’ Think…

What if, instead of or in addition to employing the second White House Press Secretary during President Obama’s first term in order to defend its corporate reputation, Amazon instead focused even more on its corporate behavior, molding it into a kinder and gentler place to work. Admittedly, the harsh reality of any retailer involves long hours, slow and low pay increases given the low margin nature of the business, and a non-stop work spree during the holidays. But what else could Amazon ‘do?’ Could it:

  • Increase flex time options during the off-season?
  • Offer free gym and/or yoga studio memberships if it doesn’t do so already?
  • Provide more comprehensive manager training and increased oversight of how managers perform in leading their teams?
  • Begin a more transparent 360 degree review system?
  • Provide encouragement and incentives for ideas and innovation from mid and lower employee ranks?
  • Offer a personal valet service for employees with the usual plethora of amenities including dry cleaning, travel and restaurant reservations, etc.?
  • Instill a stronger employee recognition system?
  • Drop some of the Darwinian nonsense and incentivize employees for collaborating, working together, and producing results more effectively as a team?

Disclaimer: While I looked up Amazon’s benefits on its website, I’m not familiar with the inner workings of Amazon. It may offer several of these perks and behavior modification motivators already.

I apologize if I offended you with my drinking joke earlier in this article. While it’s always 5 p.m. somewhere, the sober truth is that many of us, myself included, have worked at least a short stint with a very loathsome employer. The good news is there’s always at least one great lesson we can learn in every situation. Among my many positive experiences from a 30 month trip to work hell, not to mention the many great people I met there, is this take-away — not for companies, but for you, my friend.

Focus On Your Thoughts, Behavior and Actions

And ONLY focus on these three elements. I will call these your outputs. A positive reputation is the by-product. I will call this your outcome. You cannot control what other people think. You can control what YOU do.

To validate this hypothesis, just yesterday morning I ran a comprehensive focus group with respondents who enjoy an incredibly positive reputation in their workplace. Well actually there was just one participant, my wife. We didn’t conduct our focus group through a smoky glass window but in our kitchen as she was preparing a piece of toasted Alvarado Street Bakery Bread slathered with butter for our five year old daughter. Our conversation lasted about two minutes. Now as mentioned, I know she is perceived very positively within her company and by her peers in the industry (wow, that sounds so pompous). And with good reason — she is bright, creative, very results oriented, and has an amazingly high EQ [link]. People simply enjoy being around her.

I asked my wife how much she thinks about her reputation. Her predictable response as she looked at me somewhat dumbfoundedly for even asking her the question? “Never. I never focus on my reputation.” I then asked, “Well then what DO you focus on?” She answered, “I simply focus on doing the best job I can — being a good manager and leader, being creative, and getting strong results. And I like treating people well..the way I want to be treated.” Ahh, the Golden Rule. It smells so very nice.

On the other hand, haven’t we all encountered a peer who is overly concerned with her/his reputation? They obsess over it so much that it’s difficult to take them seriously simply because they take themselves so very seriously.

And there you have the paradox. If you want to improve your reputation, don’t think about your reputation. Instead, ask yourself these 10 questions, as just an example, every day, in order to assess your outputs and improve upon them. The first five are people-focused and the last five are Git R Done focused. Rate yourself on a scale of 1 (terrible) to 10 (fantastic). Better still, ask a peer to grade you in these 10 areas.

  1. How positively am I showing up every day AND how consistent is my behavior overall?
  2. How kind, empathetic and joyful am I with my peers?
  3. How good a listener am I?
  4. How strong am I at positively influencing other people?
  5. How frequently and consistently do I help my peers in their times of need?
  6. How strong am I at proactively taking action and completing deliverables?
  7. How consistently do I over-deliver on what I commit to?
  8. How strong are the top five skills I need to excel in my job?
  9. How consistent am I at undertaking learning to improve my skills?
  10. How often do I come up with implementable creative ideas?

While I’m not going to provide a specific rating scale, let’s just say that if your total score is less than or equal to 70, you may be experiencing a personal reputation crisis, bunky.

With a commitment to improving in these areas you will get your outcome — a better reputation. And heck, maybe you’ll end up shining so strongly that when Jay is done with his current gig, Jeff will ask you to take over for him!