Monday, August 17, 2015


There has been a lot of buzz this weekend from an article in the New York Times examining the work environment at Amazon. I have been lucky enough to spend the last 12 years of my career at an organization that excels without having to treat is people like a commodity, nor playing against their desire to experience life outside of the work that they do. The culture of an organization is directed from the top. The article portrays Jeff Bezos as a man driven to succeed, using analytics ruthlessly in his pursuit of excellence. Managers at Amazon, taking the lead from that example, are said to be ruthless in their drive, brutal with their feedback and uncaring about the personal lives of those who work for them. (As an aside, Forbes columnist George Anders posted a more nuanced interpretation of Mr. Bezos' history.)

For the last 6 years, I have been responsible for leading a team of people at my company. It is very tempting to employ a win at all costs attitude, especially as a new manager who was very successful as an individual on the team you are now managing. Early in my career as a manager I had very little empathy for the work life balance of my team, or even of my own for that matter. We all want to be leading the world into new frontiers, however it is just as important to be leading our family and enjoying the time we have here on earth.

As I've matured as a manager, I've found that by allowing people the freedom to experience the moments they want to experience with their family I've inspired them to put in the extra effort to cover those times. By allowing a young father to attend his daughters Kindergarten holiday concert or to rush home and help his son with a sprained ankle, they will then repay that with loyalty and effort beyond what could have been accomplished in that little time used for personal time.

Our company has a saying, "Work is not a place you go, it is a thing that you do." I think that's an interesting distinction, but I prefer a slightly altered version.  Your work is not who you are, it is a thing that you do. I've come to realize that life is about experiences, not things.  Whether those things be what you earn or what you create on the job, they are not our purpose for being here. We are meant to love, to experience beauty, to share our lives with those who are important to us. So when I read this story about Amazon, I appreciate their ability to provide me with a ball pump delivered to my house in 48 hours because that ball pump allowed me to play volleyball in the driveway with my daughter.  I feel badly for the person who missed out on those experiences to build that very platform.

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