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Thinking About High Performance: GPTW, Netflix and Amazon...

There's a happy tale that we've all grown used used to in the HR game.  It goes something like this:

The best way to build a company is to build a Great Place to Work.  

Most of us believe that, right?  I'm not her to debate that.  A lot of what I know is aligned with everything we think we know on the GPTW front, especially on the OD side of the house - not on the benefits, cool work space and catered meals part of GPTW.

But if it's raw performance you're looking for at the corporate level, there are some different cultural stories being told that are too big to ignore. Amazon

Let's talk about Amazon and Netflix.  

The New York Times just ran a long piece about the hard knock culture that exists at Amazon.  Most of you know that Amazon's been a rocket ship of corporate performance for a decade plus.  I'd encourage everyone to go dig into the article, because it's straight up Darwinian compared to the GPTW narrative we're used to seeing.  Here's one little taste - multiple it by a factor of 20 and that's the article:

"On Monday mornings, fresh recruits line up for an orientation intended to catapult them into Amazon’s singular way of working.

They are told to forget the “poor habits” they learned at previous jobs, one employee recalled. When they “hit the wall” from the unrelenting pace, there is only one solution: “Climb the wall,” others reported. To be the best Amazonians they can be, they should be guided by the leadership principles, 14 rules inscribed on handy laminated cards. When quizzed days later, those with perfect scores earn a virtual award proclaiming, “I’m Peculiar” — the company’s proud phrase for overturning workplace conventions.

At Amazon, workers are encouraged to tear apart one another’s ideas in meetings, toil long and late (emails arrive past midnight, followed by text messages asking why they were not answered), and held to standards that the company boasts are “unreasonably high.” The internal phone directory instructs colleagues on how to send secret feedback to one another’s bosses. Employees say it is frequently used to sabotage others. (The tool offers sample texts, including this: “I felt concerned about his inflexibility and openly complaining about minor tasks.”)

Most of the NYT article is about the white collar workforce at Amazon - but you have to love this snippet from the blue collar side:

Amazon came under fire in 2011 when workers in an eastern Pennsylvania warehouse toiled in more than 100-degree heat with ambulances waiting outside, taking away laborers as they fell. After an investigation by the local newspaper, the company installed air-conditioning.

Good times on the reg.

Amazon's a rocket ship of performance.  Let's just assume that they're Darth Vader of Great Place to Work cultural theory.  Welcome to the dark side - now get to ####ing work. Orientation is over. An ambulance is waiting for your convenience - remember that when the GPTW survey comes around.

If Amazon is Darth, then who's the Han Solo of GPTW?  You know, the player that's a little bit dirty, but still has enough goodness to make you trust they'll get it done?

Enter Netflix.

Netflix became the darling of HR people in the know with their iconic cultural slide show deck.  Unlimited vacation? Check. Take it when you need it. Unlimited Maternity and Paternity leave?  Sure - take care of the little ones. 

We celebrate Netflix for these things, but consider this from that same iconic cultural deck (email subscribers, click through for the picture below):

Screen Shot 2015-08-16 at 7.52.48 PM

Up or out, you rat bastards.  Is is possible that the best way to drive corporate performance is go give people max freedom, give them a chance to be great and then pluck them from the herd the ones that aren't stars?

There are a lot of Great Places to Work that allow B and C players to remain.

Amazon doesn't sound like a great place to work.  Netflix sounds like the place you want to be.  If you're amazing.

If you aren't amazing, you should interview well, land at a GPTW and hunker down for as many years as you can.  It's safe for you there.



Great post, Kris. I interviewed with Amazon years ago for a HR Director role in Dallas, but went all the way through the interview process in Seattle. Very unique interview process (bar raisers), to say the least. At the end of the day, I didn't get the nod. It was disappointing at the time, but there is clearly a reason for everything. What you've described does not sound like a good time and it's not what I'm about. Just one more example of "everything that glitters isn't gold".

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