I foresee the great Amazon Article by By JODI KANTOR and DAVID STREITFELD as being highly influential to this blog for a long long time. It’s because their work touches on so many areas that are challenges for the primary population (Professional Individual Contributors) that is the initial focus of this blog.
There are quotes like the infamous purposeful dwarfism comment, and the idea that finding people is like panning for gold, with the innuendo being that you have to go through alot of useless rocks to find something valuable… but one quote from the article is especially interesting to me.
Liz Pearce spent two years at Amazon, managing projects like its wedding registry. “The pressure to deliver far surpasses any other metric,” she said. “I would see people practically combust.”
But just as Jeff Bezos was able to see the future of e-commerce before anyone else, she added, he was able to envision a new kind of workplace: fluid but tough, with employees staying only a short time and employers demanding the maximum.
What makes this quote so interesting is that it’s taking an ancient concept.. “burn and churn” and putting a high gloss of visionary leadership on it.
Burn and churn has been around forever. It’s a basic practice in sales and sales oriented organizations. Insurance companies are notorious for this practice. It’s very simple.. The company will bring in a new employee, preferably someone young and with limited personal strings.. and then we ply them promises of promotions, potentially high bonus, and even ketchy’s prizes like electronics and trips. These golden rings are wrapped up in a bow unique corporate zeitgeist generally attributed to an organizational dogma of a historically unique and visionary corporate leader. *ahem* Jeff Bezos. The individual is given these carrots to “Work hard and play hard” and they put in obscene hours and take on relentless pressure. When the organizational dysfunction, unrealistic goals, or just exhaustion takes their toll.. the individual is let go.. or so burned out they jump to get to the next yard where the grass is theoretically greener. And the cycle begins anew.
Burn and churn for the professional individual contributor unrelated to sales tends to be seen more in high growth companies. For example Dish Network and Amazon. In these situations the company’s trajectory allows them to ignore the nuanced but high value that is brought along with seasoned employees with strong professional networks and deep knowledge. The organization can bring in the next person because the environment and business model has more to do with plowing the next field vs. really understanding and nurturing the plants you have.
The amazon mantra is that you are there to do great things and that’s why it’s so necessary to work people to death. I’m not so sure that getting my toilet paper or detergent at the press of a button in my washroom is so amazing and world changing that it’s worth having people work 90+ hours a week or regularly crying at their desk.