Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Amazon's Bezos does not know what he's talking about

A company built on selling everyone else's stuff is an illusory thing. It only exists if other companies think it is valuable. It only exists if people remain confident in it.

A performance system evidenced by data you agree with is equally illusory. Data collected in a biased way is not ground truth data. You are looking at the data other people want you to see but not the data you need.

When a company enforces a bell curve on people, even though they are not normally-distributed performers to get the job in the first place, it is not listening to people. It is imposing a fear and obedience system on human beings. Do what we say and don't complain or we get rid of you.

What could possibly go wrong with monitoring all the ins and outs of people working? What could go wrong with making people edgy about performance appraisal all year, rather than focus on working?  What could go wrong with punishing people one year despite a solid track record of achieving? What could go wrong with a snitch line? These are not positive performance habits. These are not enablers. The irony is Jeff Bezos has set up a system where he can point at data divorced from reality and still think it's real.

Jeff Bezos should really read a book on his own shelf : The Drunkard's Walk

 This is an excellent book and it explains why uninformed people think they understand more from data than is actually there.  Meaning: everything in society is based on stochasticity. Managers always overvalue their performance and undervalue chance. Victory has a thousand fathers, defeat is an orphan.  Managers always take full credit and rob credit from the real people you want to keep. Over-valuing instantaneous data demonstrates you don't understand long term trends.  You can do everything right and conditions make you fail. You can do everything wrong and conditions make you succeed. Hiring and firing people on the wrong data only decreases your chances of success. It will take one drunkard's walk the other way to turn over your bad company. Sooner or later all random conditions happen. If you've carved out your company and left it to sociopaths running amok it will be exposed soon enough. Pinning serious decisions on temporary data is foolish in the extreme. And if you think it has worked in the past so it should work now, then you are foolish. Or in denial.

When Amazon is told by the New York Times it's employees are tortured by work conditions Bezos responds:

"The article doesn't describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day," Bezos wrote on Sunday. "I strongly believe that anyone working in a company that really is like the one described in the NYT would be crazy to stay. I know I would leave such a company."

Bezos acknowledged that the New York Times story went beyond a few "isolated anecdotes," since the story interviewed 100 former and current employees.
People crying at desks is not a statistic most companies need to track. That's a fact you can't get around. That's a real problem.

Then he is in denial about the impact of poor data collection habits. He is not questioning the bringers of data to see that they are giving him the whole picture. If you don't keep your managers in check then what's to stop sociopathic behaviour? Managers THRIVE ON SOCIOPATHIC OPPORTUNITIES.  If he's letting them lie to him then does he want to change the system that is working well for him? He's getting richer and his people are getting stressed. Or fired unfairly. Again, what could possibly go wrong with that?

If he is taking data at face value but not really checking the actual conditions out for himself, then he literally and figuratively doesn't know what he's talking about. The data isn't reliable so any conclusions therefrom are uncertain. If he accepts the premise data is sound then does he really want to tinker with what's working so well?

If that's the case then he's really not interested in change.Why can I say that? Because if he had all the actual data then how could he arrive at his current opinion? How would you know which people are the best performers if your data collection system is faulty? A manager can insert what he likes and lay off whom he can justify. People are crying at desks and no one dares say anything for fear of reprisal. Managers are emailing at midnight to make it appear that they are working insane hours - even though it takes 10 seconds to send an email, and it might take hours or days to respond.  Sounds pretty obvious to me.

It's just as likely that managers will abuse a data collection system to vendetta against targeted people regardless of performance. It's just as likely that people that are working well get caught in a bad cycle, work under conditions that aren't ideal, wait on others that aren't timely, and they can't deliver than they are incapable of delivering on time.  It's just as likely that people will lie to bosses, or say only positive things so as to appear completely happy with the company.  This breeds a fear and desperation culture where everyone becomes out to save themselves and teamwork suffers. Draconian culture feeds on itself.

This culture will end Amazon if left unchecked. This is death spiral condition.  I worked at a plant where people had lost confidence in the company. It was called Wittke and this is the conditions I saw firsthand.  This is how people turn on themselves, employees hide information and skills so they can't get fired, and managers survive by sacrificing good people to demonstrate their value. Blame becomes a weapon and teamwork is thrown out. Plant managers ridden into the ground by VP Operations.  This is how a good company falls apart.

Here is what real data says:

Here is more real data: Amazon isn't in the top 50 companies
from the overall Glassdoor survey.  Google is #1. That's a real fact. Google doesn't use this system. That's another fact.

This is what Jeff Bezos said about feedback:

Bezos encouraged employees to report inappropriate management behavior or incidents directly to him. He said the company won't accept callous treatment of its employees.
"If you know of any stories like those reported, I want you to escalate to HR. You can also email me directly at," he said. "Even if it's rare or isolated, our tolerance for any such lack of empathy needs to be zero."
How confident in your next performance review would you be if you email the president about your boss? If he isn't getting complaint emails about managers then he isn't getting the real data. Does that mean all managers are wonderful? He seems to think so. Do managers get to be managers by being nice people?

This is total bunk, Jeff may have a direct email line open but I know for a personal fact he doesn't read them all. It is filtered by staff. Again, what could possibly go wrong with that?

How do I know? I emailed him myself.  This is an email I got back when I applied for a senior engineering job at Amazon:

-------- Forwarded Message --------
Subject: RE: Snr Manager Innovation and Design - Job: 251043
Date: Fri, 2 May 2014 22:29:23 +0000
From: Powers, Alice <>
To: <>
Dear Dave,

I hope you don’t mind my responding on Jeff’s behalf.  Although he does read his email, his schedule doesn’t always allow him to personally respond.

I wanted to get back to you quickly to let you know that I’ve taken the liberty of forwarding your message on to the Human Resources team, as they work closely with these issues on a day-to-day basis.  I feel confident entrusting your inquiry to them.

Kind regards,
Alice Powers

From: Dave Erickson []
Sent: Monday, April 21, 2014 12:10 PM
To: Bezos, Jeff
Subject: Re: Snr Manager Innovation and Design - Job: 251043


To whom it may concern;

Since I can't give you a full CV I thought about your position and came up with a proposed plan that summarizes how I would optimize your existing systems and projects; this is based on my philosophy of what harms leading systems integrator companies like my old company General Dynamics:

1. Stamp out sociopathy. Company first. 
2. Divest managers restaff with team leaders. 
3. Skills matrix. 
4. Capabilities matrix. 
5. Centralize knowledge. 
6. Travel reprioritization. 
7. Adopt open source where practical. 
8. Collaborate internationally with allies in coventures. 
9. Instill design philosophy. 
10. Refactor projects' hierarchies as component model patterns. 

Anyway, that's what I came up with so far.  



Sent from my iPhone

I applied offering to fix the problems that are now plaguing Amazon. Good thing he read his email. Good thing I didn't take the job.