Photo credit to Archibaldholtzhausen.com.
I've watched and read the fallout from the New York Times recent article now for over a week. And I agree, the initial story paints a disturbing picture. But it isn't the only picture; there is always another side to the story. Not all facts fit the narrative, and there are frequently as many perspectives as there are people involved.
We all value different things in our work. Some people value being a member of a team that is driving to accomplish a goal. Others value being able to leave every day at 5PM to pick their kids up. Others value the opportunity to learn and grow news skills. What we value changes with time, with the commitments we hold outside our professions, with how much debt we've racked up, with the state of our health. One size does not fit all. There is no magic bullet, or perfect company culture that is replicable across all organizations.
These conflicting mental models and antidotal evidence exist side by side in almost every company; due to the values, perspectives and expectations each individual bring to the game. The smaller the company, the less disparity we are likely to see, so it's no wonder there is a big disparity at Amazon. Is it true that Amazon could improve its company culture? Almost certainly. I'm unaware of any company that has a perfect culture. Is it also true that no one is being forced by law to work at Amazon? Yes, and I'd add that if you ever find yourself crying at your desk, it's time to look for a new job - whether you are working at Amazon or for yourself.
What is more disturbing to me is the collective and immediate rush to judgment. Not only on the Amazon story, but almost universally I'm seeing more impetuous statements being made on everything from politics to contract negotiations. I see these contrary, polarizing accusations within client organizations almost daily. "Sales never takes Creative into consideration - these timelines are ridiculous!" "Project Management makes me want to quit my job. I promised a quote to the client last week and they still haven't produced one!"
We seem to have bypassed the ladder of inference and taken the express elevator straight to our own (or the author's) preconceived conclusions. Where is the critical thinking? Where is the humility? I encounter this "need to be right" far too often within client organizations. It's my role to help create a safe space so individuals can slow down, examine their assumptions and beliefs, and begin to change the question from "Is this right or wrong?" to "Is this effective or ineffective?"
Joan Blades, Co-founder of Living Room Conversations and Great Work Cultures, said it differently during a segment "Let's Talk About Myths" on a panel at Independent Voting's national conference.
"The myth I'm most focused on is about the other. The other being kind of dim-witted, the other being mean-spirited, the other being calloused... the really good news is that when you take the time, and create space that allows for listening (and really Living Room Conversations could be named Living Room Listening), we learn that others are caring and intelligent... how do we start really opening things up so that we can start benefiting from the richness of our views used together and our energy put together?"
Although Joan's comments were made in the context of our political polarizations, I'll argue that the cost of approaching issues with a rush to judgment in business is even greater than in politics. It causes unnecessary friction, limits available solutions, and shuts down collaboration and creative thinking.
In a world of disruption, the ability to adapt, to respond effectively to the disruption, is the ultimate skill for an individual, a team, or a company. It requires a willingness to look at the facts, think creatively, collaborate with people whose ideas and approaches are different, and often requires making tough decisions. Coming to the game with the attitude that "they" are the problem, that you already have the answers isn't just ineffective; it's going to cost us all.
Bill Sanders is Principal and Sr. Consultant with Roebling Strauss, a boutique consultancy that specializes in delivering dramatic improvements in organizational effectiveness: co-founder and Advisory Board Member of Will Someone, software that facilitates and supports team alignment through commitments: and Co-Lead Link of the Finance Circle for Great Work Cultures, a community dedicated to creating a new norm for work cultures that optimize worker effectiveness and human happiness. Connect with Bill on twitter at @technacea.