Who doesn’t enjoy a good round of brutal criticism? A lot of former Amazon employees, apparently.
In a deep dive into the corporate culture fostered at internet mega-retailer Amazon by founder Jeff Bezos, the New York Times reports on a piece of management software that is particularly controversial among the company’s employees: The tool, called “Collaborative Anytime Feedback,” was built into the company directory and allowed workers to send feedback about their colleagues directly to managers.
At Amazon, it reportedly became a powerful weapon in a culture that demanded complete commitment and brutal honesty. Workers said that annual firings of bottom-performing employees—”stack ranking“—led to the abuse and manipulation of the feedback system, including criticism pasted verbatim into performance reviews. A company spokesperson said most of the feedback generated by the tool is complimentary.
Workers using the system were offered boilerplate text to frame their complaints, including one suggestion printed in the Times: “I felt concerned about his inflexibility and openly complaining about minor tasks.”
Amazon built a digital retail rival to Walmart with a culture of frugality and an obsession with solving customer problems. But eighty-hour weeks, ruthless competition and little patience for family and health led to a constant stream of workers quitting or being fired.
In turn, they have been replaced by waves of ambitious applicants hoping to catch on at the fast-growing company. Employees of the Seattle-based company earned reputations as inhumanly dedicated (“Amabots”) and personally unforgiving (“Amholes.”)
While the intensity of Amazon’s corporate culture may not catch on everywhere, the tool underlying it might find its way to your workplace. The Times notes that Workday, a human resources software maker that includes Bezos among its investors, has built a similar product that “promises to turn the annual performance review into a daily event.”
Whether that sounds like a productivity booster or a dystopian nightmare probably depends on which side of the desk you’re sitting.