The Anti-Amazon Culture

Hours after my baby was born, I went back to work.


September 2, 2015

The last time I remember sleeping was three days ago, just before Tash’s contractions started and we moved into the all-consuming intensity of labour and delivery.

In the wee hours of the morning, three days after it all began, we had our little baby girl. For a couple of hours we simply sat there with little Olia in our arms – checking her out as she made her introduction to the world.

It wasn’t long before my mind flipped back to business.

Coming off a challenging four-month product leadership and launch initiative, I was eager to check in and let my boss know I would be in that week to ensure the team continued driving forward.

In the hospital room I flipped open my laptop and fired a quick email notifying the team I’d be in and out of the office all week and available 24/7 for support – as usual.

Clicking send, I immediately realized a huge sense of confliction in offering my time and energy up to the team only hours after my daughter had been born and my wife completed the grueling marathon of delivery… I sucked it up and told myself I could manage both – full commitment to Olia and Tash, and full commitment to my team – they both deserved as much.

What happened next is one of the most incredibly gracious experiences I have experienced in my life.

Within 10 minutes of clicking send I see an email from my VP. A beautiful congratulatory note, heartfelt and sincere, reflective and kind. And then a warning – don’t even think about coming into the office this week – take the time to enjoy the first hours and days as a new family. I may be smaller than you but if I see you in the office I will do whatever I can to kindly escort you back home (smiley face).

I wouldn’t have ever admitted, but receiving that email was exactly what I needed and likely the only way I would have ever paused to fully accept and appreciate this rare moment of new life.

I let out a massive sigh and sunk back into the rocking chair – it felt like 1,000 pounds had just been lifted off of my back.

I told Tash, nearly in tears with gratitude and appreciation for the company I worked for and the culture we have strived so hard to build and uphold.

Proudly un-Amazonian

At BuildDirect we have this Big Hairy Audacious Goal to disrupt and completely transform an industry. On paper, we share many similarities with Amazon, and there is no denying it as a source many of us look to for market leadership and innovation insights.

After the continued ‘coming out’ of the destructive culture revealed under the tech giant’s kimono, I can’t proudly enough state how un-Amazonian I feel today.

Filling in the gaps

When we’re talking about a company with well over 100,000 employees, it’s obvious we’re only getting a small slice of the story with regards to the net cultural impact and experience within the walls.

That being said, after reading over a dozen accounts, and specifically Julia Cheiffetz’s I Had a Baby and Cancer When I Worked at Amazon. This Is My Story – there is a cultural theme I continue to pick up on.

In Julia’s brief maternity leave from the company (five months) after delivering a child and being diagnosed with and fighting cancer she returned to find out her role had been dissolved / transitioned. She was essentially thrown into a meaningless corner of the company.

One word changes everything

I understand that in a fast-moving company, a lot can change in five months. I also understand the shifting and adapting of new roles when returning from a leave like this. But what I find scarily shocking is the seemingly utter lack of communication and transparency throughout an experience like this. It uncovers the deeper cultural fabric that has mutated out of the Amazon cultural DNA.

Someone, and likely several people – leaders and managers – made a conscious (worse yet if it was subconscious) decision to not communicate the decisions that critically impacted Julia’s role (and life) with the organization. Not only did her team choose not to empathize with their colleague’s incredibly difficult situation, but they were convinced to the point of action (or non-action) that this was the right decision within the Amazon culture.

A cardinal sin

This to me represents the cardinal sin I continue to see woven through the now hundreds of stories leaking from the Amazonian vault. The consistent lack of empathy for colleagues and employees highlights the power of an organization’s ability to create a brainwash culture where regard for role, title, status, and success trumps our basic human needs.

Despite the similarities of field and industry, the majority of our differences can be bubbled up into one overarching word. Empathy.

From the founders and early leaders of our organization, this strand has been intentionally woven into our DNA. It acts as the dominant gene for any employee representing us. Even today, when we are out in the market looking for world-class candidates, a mandatory prerequisite is a passion and innate desire to lead with empathy and compassion for others.

This changes everything

It means when I ask to take on a project and team that I know will require 60-hour weeks, the whole organization rallies behind me. The sentiment I receive is never “You better get this done — your ass is on the line” but overwhelmingly “How can we support you to drive this initiative forward?”.

It means anytime a team member is struggling, is ill, is grieving a family tragedy – we intentionally take time to pause what we’re doing and offer our thoughts, warmth and support.

It means we constantly focus on celebrating the successes and achievements of each other, both in and outside of the walls of work.

It means when our leadership team tells us something needs to be done that is critical to the business – we band together and do whatever it takes to make that happen. This has meant working weekends, through the night, changing roles, having difficult conversations, and making sacrifices.

Red pill or blue pill?

Those who don’t share this passion eventually opt themselves out – I have seen it happen over and over again.

Those who chose the red pill have banded together, a tight knit family living the #BDLife. Good, bad, and ugly – we’re in it together.

We are no Amazon. We will have hundreds if not thousands of hurdles as we climb the rungs from 300 employees to 1,000, 10,000, and beyond. A lot will change. Culture will become more and more difficult to guide. But I am confident we’ll find a way to get 10x more out of the sum of our parts while creating exponential velocity as a consequence of a sustained tight-knit tribe mentality.

What I do know is that I am grateful, now more than ever, to be a part of an organization, a tribe of people who are dreaming big, willing to do whatever it takes to get there, but will never put this at the expense of our colleagues.

I have no doubt we will make it to the top of this mountain. And when we set foot on that theoretical summit – we’ll look around, smile, crack and a beer, and cheers to doing world-changing work alongside hundreds of people we call friends.

Daily briefings, straight to your inbox

Business and tech news in 5 minutes or less

Join over 1 million people who read The Hustle

Psst

How'd Bezos build a billion dollar empire?

In 1994, Jeff Bezos discovered a shocking stat: Internet usage grew 2,300% per year.

Data shows where markets are headed.

And that’s why we built Trends — to show you up-and-coming market opportunities about to explode. Interested?

Join us, it's free.

Look, you came to this site because you saw something cool. But here’s the deal. This site is actually a daily email that covers the important news in business, tech, and culture.

So, if you like what you’re reading, give the email a try.