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Human Resources

Amazon's Jeff Bezos's "data-perfect" world is troubling

Over the weekend, two reporters at the New York Times published an exposé of the inner workings of life at Amazon. A fascinating insight, it made for some uncomfortable reading and will unsurprisingly put many loyal Amazon customers in a moral quandary: how can they continue supporting a company that ruthlessly treats its employees like data-driven machines?

In order to fully appreciate how disturbing life is for Amazon employees, the article needs to be read in full here. But some of the stuff includes employees being encouraged to “give secret feedback to one another’s bosses”, “tear apart” each other in meetings and push personal crises like cancer or miscarriages aside or risk being edged-out of the company. This isn’t just a simple dog-eat-dog world. It’s literally a fight till the end – where the “losers” who can’t make Amazon their number one priority in life will be gone and the “winners” will be the last ones standing.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder is the vision behind this form of unique data-driven management style and it was how he leveraged data in the first place that has made his company the most successful retailer in history. Leveraging Big Data is a massive pain-point and source of frustration for many companies today. But Bezos has been utilising data since 1995 and this combination with anticipating his customers’ needs has made his company the success story that it is.

The findings from the article now shows that strangely, Bezos is leveraging data against his own staff. Employees are “measured” on their performance using data and Bezos does this to push his staff to their limits in order to achieve great technological innovation. Of course, a number of companies use a variety of methods to measure their staff’s performance but here they are “held accountable for a staggering array of metrics” and quizzed on “thousands of numbers”.

It’s clear that Bezos has shunned conventional styles of management in favour of a more ruthless one. While tech companies like Facebook and Google offer incentives like free food and generous maternity leaves, Amazon offers no such things. Instead it focuses on competitive compensation packages but relies on the Amazonian workers to drive themselves.

In a way, Bezos is not completely wrong. Numerous studies have shown that offering rewards to employees as a form of motivation rarely works. Employees are most engaged when they have an intrinsic desire to do things “because they matter” or because they are in the “service of something larger” than themselves. Perhaps Bezos’s almost religious approach to management makes his employees feel they are part of something big and that pushes them to climb the mountain for him.

But it’s no secret that employees are most happy when they have a sense of autonomy over their lives. His achievements in making customer’s happiness the forefront of Amazon’s business cannot be downplayed but if it’s to the detriment of his own workers - then that is disconcerting. The reporters in the article say that Bezos’s biggest fear is to “become like Microsoft” but perhaps Bezos should be fearful of the consequences of his own relentless pursuit in reaching his next technological innovation.

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Ayesha Salim

Ayesha Salim is Staff Writer at IDG Connect

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