A lot has been written lately about two of the biggest retail chains in the world – Amazon and Starbucks.
Two weeks ago, The New York Times published a critique of Amazon and its human resources practices. It painted a grim picture of world’s largest retailer as a brutal employer that puts innovation and company performance above the well-being of its staff.
I later read another article on Business Insider that asserted that Amazon is insensitive to their employees’ needs. According to the article, a former Amazon employee [Julie Chiefetz] stated that she was pushed out of the company after getting cancer during maternity leave. Cheifetz worked as editorial director for Amazon Publishing between 2011 and 2014.
For the past month, Starbucks has seen chaotic stock market trends, which had caused distress to investors, employees and customers alike. This week, CEO Howard Schultz sent a memo to the entire staff population. The memo requested baristas to show special concern and sensitivity to their customers and praised them on the work that they’ve done so far. The move made headlines on multiple channels, and unlike the Amazon news, received positive reviews.
This is a big contrast to what we saw a few months ago. The coffee chain embarked on a campaign to mend racial issues in the United States. Baristas were encouraged to write the slogan #racetogether on all drink cups or to try to engage customers on the topic. The campaign suffered a PR backlash and the company was accused of using a sensitive topic to sell coffee. The campaign was eventually scrapped.
Everyone has their own opinion and of course they are entitled to one. But who likes to read something subjective? I went through Starbucks and Amazon values as posted on their websites and tried to identify where the companies went right and where they went wrong. Here are my observations:
• Amazon has more leadership principles/values than Starbucks. Amazon has 14 sections written 564 words and Starbucks has 6 lines that total 78 words. Both put emphasis on customer service, innovation, growth, high performance and responsibility and accountability. But when it comes to expressing the meaningful, I believe that less is more, which is what Starbucks has.
• Starbucks treats its customers the same way it does its partners [employees] and products. All 3 are important to their success. Rightly so.
• Amazon places a large importance on customer service and paints an extreme picture of customer value with the use of the word “obsess”. No mention of the importance of employees and partners to their success.
• When it comes to performance, Amazon takes home the bacon. It promotes high performance while encouraging a balanced view. Only problem is that it is constantly raising the bar, which makes it easy for people to fall down.
• I believe the danger in Amazon’s leadership principles has the potential to breed arrogance and self-promotion and that’s not healthy for any company or anyone working in it. Big egos lead to destructive behavior, no exceptions. And a culture that supports those types of personalities will eventually work in opposition to qualities like empathy and compassion.
What can we learn from the differences?