Employee Experience

The Company Culture at Amazon

6 Mins read

The company culture at Amazon has been a subject of study for so many years now. In a 2015 article by the New York Times, Amazon’s workplace culture was scrutinized for its intense and demanding nature. The piece highlighted stories of stressed employees, high expectations, and the potential for termination if targets weren’t met. While some criticized the company as a workplace bully, others defended it, emphasizing the thrill of the fast-paced environment and the opportunities for growth and innovation. The article shed light on that Amazon’s culture, although not suited for everyone, demonstrated that a company doesn’t necessarily require a “warm and fuzzy” atmosphere to thrive.

However, in this article, we delve into the distinctive work culture at Amazon that has been attributed to the company’s success. Former and current employees have praised this culture, often serving as a benchmark for other companies. Join us as we explore the key factors that make Amazon’s work culture truly unique.

About Amazon

Amazon, founded by Jeff Bezos in 1994 as an online bookstore, has grown into a global e-commerce giant with a diverse range of products. With millions of customers worldwide, Amazon offers convenience, competitive pricing, and fast delivery through its extensive network. The company’s success is also reflected in its substantial employee base, employing over 1.3 million people globally. Beyond e-commerce, Amazon has made significant technological advancements with products like the Kindle e-reader, Amazon Echo smart speakers, and Amazon Web Services (AWS), the leading cloud computing platform. Through continuous innovation, Amazon has become a dominant force shaping the future of retail and technology.

CEO Jeff Bezos credits Amazon’s company culture for the remarkable progress the e-commerce giant has achieved over the years. The unique work culture at Amazon has equipped the company with the ability to effectively cater to the ever-growing demands of the e-commerce market.

Structure of Company Culture at Amazon

Writing culture

Amazon’s approach to meetings differs from that of other companies. Rather than relying on traditional methods, Amazon emphasizes the documentation of opinions and ideas that drive business decisions. Typically, these documents span approximately six pages and serve to provide clarity and facilitate meaningful discussions based on valuable information.

During the meeting, participants devote at least 30 minutes to reading and comprehending these documents before engaging in discussion. Each page is carefully reviewed, extracting relevant points and thoroughly evaluating them before proceeding to the next page. This approach ensures that employees can actively contribute and address any questions they have without having to wait until the end of the discussion when their thoughts may have faded.

This unique meeting culture at Amazon discourages the use of PowerPoint, recognizing its potential to disrupt the flow and clarity of discussions. Instead, Amazon values the strengthening of arguments and ideas, prioritizing substance over superficial design and style that adds little value to the meeting.
Here’s what Llew Mason, Vice-President, of Supply Chain Optimization Technologies, had to say about the writing culture at Amazon:

Principles and decision-making

At Amazon, the use of principles, known as tenets, plays a crucial role in fostering individual decision-making within teams. These tenets serve as guiding principles that team members can rely on when facing challenges. Each team is provided with a set of five tenets, and their charter outlines how these principles should influence their ideas and approach to specific tasks.

By leveraging tenets, team members can effectively make trade-offs and prioritize what truly matters. In situations where conflicting values arise, these tenets serve as a compass to help them determine the most appropriate course of action. The purpose of these tenets is to empower teams to make decisions without having to navigate lengthy chains of managerial permissions.

Agility

Amazon adopts the “two pizza rule” as a means to foster agility within its corporate culture. According to this rule, teams should be small enough to be fed with just two pizzas. Originally implemented in technical teams to ensure seamless communication and prevent information loss, this principle has expanded to encompass all departments at Amazon, aiming to enhance overall productivity.

By keeping teams small, each team member gains a greater sense of significance and accountability, compared to larger teams that are challenging to manage. This approach allows for more efficient collaboration and empowers individuals to contribute effectively towards shared goals.

Drive for Innovation

At Amazon, employees are actively encouraged to think innovatively and proactively address challenges. The company installs a mindset of providing answers rather than allowing problems to linger. Employees actively empower themselves to generate fresh ideas and devise creative solutions that lead to meaningful resolutions.

Startup Vibe

Amazon maintains the dynamic energy commonly associated with startups—an unwavering drive and relentless pursuit of excellence. Unlike many organizations that may relax their efforts after achieving a certain level of success, Amazon’s employees continue to work with the same dedication as they did during the early stages of the company. The culture at Amazon thrives on consistency, making it a work environment worth embracing.

“It’s always “Day 1” at Amazon—that’s our approach to doing everything with the energy and entrepreneurial spirit of a new organization on its first day.”

– Amazon

Customer-Centric Focus

Amazon places a strong emphasis on customer satisfaction. The company hires skilled professionals who closely monitor evolving customer trends and preferences. By actively addressing changing customer demands, Amazon builds trust and fosters customer loyalty.

Here’s what Bezos had to say about Amazon’s obsession with customers, rather than its competitors:

How can your company achieve it?

Under Amazon’s leadership page, there are 16 Leadership Principles that make the company culture at Amazon peculiar:

  • Customer Obsession: Leaders prioritize the needs and trust of customers above all else.
  • Ownership: Leaders think long-term, act on behalf of the entire company, and take responsibility for outcomes.
  • Invent and Simplify: Leaders drive innovation, seek simplicity, and embrace external ideas.
  • Are Right, A Lot: Leaders exercise strong judgment, seek diverse perspectives, and continuously learn.
  • Learn and Be Curious: Leaders have a relentless pursuit of learning, exploring new possibilities, and improving themselves.
  • Hire and Develop the Best: Leaders set high standards, recognize exceptional talent, and promote growth.
  • Insist on the Highest Standards: Leaders constantly raise the bar, pursue excellence, and deliver quality results.
  • Think Big: Leaders set bold directions, think differently, and find ways to serve customers innovatively.
  • Bias for Action: Leaders prioritize speed, value calculated risk-taking, and avoid over-analysis.
  • Frugality: Leaders accomplish more with less, embrace resourcefulness, and avoid unnecessary expenses.
  • Earn Trust: Leaders listen attentively, speak candidly, and treat others respectfully.
  • Dive Deep: Leaders stay connected to details, verify with data, and maintain scepticism.
  • Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit: Leaders respectfully challenge decisions, have conviction, and commit fully.
  • Deliver Results: Leaders focus on key inputs, deliver with quality and timeliness, and never settle for mediocrity.
  • Strive to be Earth’s Best Employer: Leaders create a safe, inclusive, and empowering work environment.
  • Success and Scale Bring Broad Responsibility: Leaders prioritize the impact of their actions on communities, the planet, and future generations.

These principles guide Amazon’s leaders to constantly improve, innovate, and drive success while keeping customer satisfaction at the forefront.

Drawbacks of Amazon’s Organizational Culture

While Amazon is known for its customer-centric approach, innovative capabilities, and long-term vision, former employees have raised concerns about certain aspects of its culture that contribute to burnout and stress. Based on interviews with over 100 ex-staff members, The New York Times discovered that Amazon’s culture exhibited the following characteristics:

  • Anonymous evaluations and forced elimination of underperformers: Employees engaged in informal agreements to provide negative feedback for specific colleagues, leading to their termination during annual performance reviews.
  • In hostile work environments: individuals were actively encouraged to engage in intense debates and criticism of their co-workers, often reaching levels of humiliation.
  • Poor work-life boundaries: Some employees were expected to participate in conference calls while on vacation or work weekends and nights from home. Additionally, the company demonstrated a lack of consideration and empathy toward individuals dealing with personal hardships.

These aspects of Amazon’s culture highlight challenges related to employee well-being and work-life balance.

Conclusion

The synergy between Amazon’s culture and brand is the driving force behind the company’s success. With a relentless focus on delivering excellence to customers, every individual at Amazon shares a common goal. There is no need for extra effort in understanding how to uphold the brand’s values and reputation. This unwavering dedication to customer satisfaction has earned Amazon the admiration, loyalty, and significant financial support of its customers. Moreover, employees have recognized the distinctiveness of Amazon’s culture, making it one of the most coveted workplaces.

Brand-culture fusion exemplifies how Amazon serves as a prime example—where the external brand identity and the internal organizational culture seamlessly integrate and align. This powerful combination is the key to unlocking the achievements of the world’s most exceptional companies.

Further Reading:
The Company Culture at Microsoft
Effective team meeting agenda
5 Top Job Description Tools

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About author
Fatjona Gërguri is the content writer for Employee Experience Magazine, covering the relevant topics about employee experience, organizational culture and general HR topics.
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