Amazon Management Structure

 

Management and Organization Behavior

Introduction

Whereas there are divergent views on the subject of leadership and management, the unanimous agreement among leadership experts like Myatt (2013) is that the interaction between managers/leaders and their subjects cannot exist in a vacuum. To fill this gap, several management concepts have been hypothesis over the years ranging from Contingency Theory and Systems Theory, to others such as Trait theory as well as Theory X and Theory Y. for example, Theory X and Y deals with how leaders perceive their employees’ motivation to work, and how this perception determines how such managers apply power and authority at the workplace. For instance, managers who support theory X believe that workers are naturally unmotivated and hate their jobs. Thus, such managers prefer an authoritarian style of leadership as they believe workers must be pushed to perform.  As we shall see later in the essay, Amazon’s employees are monitored very closely and strictly because their leaders believe they must be pushed to achieve results. On the other hand, managers who support theory Y believe that workers are happy, self-motivated and creative, and that such employees enjoy greater responsibility. Such types of managers allow workers to work freely without interference.

According to Miles (2012), each of these leadership philosophies are applicable under unique set of circumstances and cannot therefore be contrasted against one another. Instead, the focus should be on using the relevant facets of each to design a better overall management philosophy that is relevant in the highly dynamic society we live in.

One such attempt at understanding organizations and how people within them interact with each other was postulated by Morgan (1997), in his portrayal of organizations as political systems. In this regard, the Author posits that the levels and nature of political activities in organizations are determined by the kind of political rule that exists therein (Evans, Hassard & Hyde 2013). Using Morgan’s model, this paper argues that Amazon is founded upon the political typology of management. Amazon.com, the largest E-commerce company is headquartered in the United States. Consequently, the analysis is based on an article published in the New York Times that offers an insight of what it means to be an employee at Amazon. Based on the personal anecdotes given by past and present workers at the firm, the essay will confirm the existence of all the six varieties of political rule as discussed in the subsequent paragraphs.

Autocracy

This refers to a situation where an individual or a small group of people within an organization hold absolute power (Grey 1999). This is made possible by the fact that the individual or group controls all the critical resources, holds considerable ownership rights, or is favored by the organization’s traditions. Morgan’s view on the autocratic model is supported by other authors like Vellnagel (2013 p.5) who argues that autocratic or authoritarian leaders are known to employ the ‘use of charisma’ as well as other personal privileges. He adds that Autocratic leaders view their positions as transcendent and therefore beyond reproach. As can be noted from the article on Amazon, there are certain incidences that point to an autocratic leadership model. For example, the company reportedly fires workers who fail to adapt to the company’s corporate philosophy every year in what they term “purposeful Darwinism.” These lay-offs are ruthless as they target even those who suffer medical illness without giving them time to recover (Kantor & Steitfeld 2015).

Similarly, autocracy manifests itself in the fact that the founder, Jeff Bezos, still runs the company and dictates the management philosophy although being a huge publicly traded company worth $250 billion. Based on one account from a former employee, Bezos enforces his “Articles of Faith” philosophy ruthlessly as he considers them a moral benchmark against which everything is to be measured. Moreover, the company’s leadership exercise tight control on the flow of information by authorizing only a few senior managers to speak to the media meaning there is little room for freedom of expression with people outside the company. Perhaps the most ideal evidence of autocracy was witnessed from the incident where workers packing boxes were made to work in 100 degree heat without air conditioning and this continued even as some of them passed out. The situation only improved when the story received media coverage. In the last paragraph of the article, it is apparent that Amazon notifies its candidates during job interviews that they either fit the profile or they don’t (Kantor & Steitfeld 2015). In other words, they have to embrace the Amazon way or leave, a pointer to the outright autocracy.

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Bureaucracy

As noted by (Merz 2013 p.3) while discussing Max Weber’s theory of bureaucracy, the bureaucratic organization of activities is the hallmark of modernity, a view restate by Morgan when he consider that bureaucracies are based upon rational principles. In addition, bureaucracy refers to the leadership exercised through based upon a set of written words with little room for flexibility. Just like autocracy, bureaucracy is manifested in the management of Amazon based on some of the existing guidelines for employees. The first indication of bureaucracy is seen in the fact that the flow of information is extremely controlled with only a handful of senior management staff authorized to speak on behalf of the company meaning one has to follows a lot of convention to get any information about the company. Moreover, Amazon’s bureaucracy can be seen in the ‘leadership principles’ drafted by the founder which dictates how employees should act. Whereas other technology-based companies allow some element of flexibility in their workplace, Amazon drills its rules to both existing and potential workers meaning there is little room for flexibility.

Another area where bureaucracy is evident comes from the company’s performance improvement plan-a program aimed at putting non-productive workers on notice by administering close supervision to their daily tasks (Kantor & Steitfeld 2015). Whereas this is a valuable tool for monitoring or increasing productivity, the model used at Amazon is rather inflexible as workers are punished indiscriminately without taking time to determine the causes of reduced productivity. As can be noted from the accounts of various workers who have fallen victim to the program, failure to meet set targets is most caused by unavoidable circumstances such as ill health (Kantor & Steitfeld 2015). Whereas the company is aware of this glitch in their program, it is apparent that senior management has shown little willingness to adjust their performance management policies to consider these factors.

Technocracy

In this regard, Morgan claimed that authority is exercised through application of knowledge, power of experts, as well as the capacity to generate solutions for common challenges. Other experts like Olson (2015) concur with this view arguing that leadership under technocracy is appointed based on specialized knowledge or expertise. Based on the Amazon corporate philosophy, this is perhaps the most distinct mode of political rule. For instance, the company’s founder relies on data-driven type of management. In this regard, Jeff Bezos has extreme confidence in the power of metrics, and this philosophy was influenced by his earlier responsibility at D. E. Shaw in the early 90s whereby the use of algorithms disrupted what was being used by Wall Street at the time. In addition, the application of technocracy to generate solutions can be seen in the company’s policy that requires all workers to display “ownership” by mastering every aspect of their business. Amazon’s employees are to explore issues deeply and come up with creative knowledge-based solutions that will help solve customers’ problems (Kantor & Steitfeld 2015).

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One example of this can be seen as the company is breaking down its technological boundary to come up with new innovative ways to deliver to their customer i.e. package delivery by drone and automated resupply of toilet paper. These ideas are all generated by the company’s employees as part of what is expected of them. Based on the account of other workers, Amazon has been rather fast in responding to changes which everybody else in the workplace is just beginning to experience. As summarized by a former personnel officer at the company, data allows the company to continuously monitor individual performance. In this regard, most of the past and present employees at Amazon consistently agree that the company has the technological edge and represents where others would like to be in the future.

Co-determination

This refers to a type of political rule that involves opposing parties that come together to as one to manage projects that are of mutual interests (Grey 1999). In this regard, each party draws upon a specified power base. Whereas the senior authority or power at Amazon remains largely centralized, there are components of the organization, especially at the lower levels, where the concept of co-determination is evident as can be seen from the accounts of the past and present employees. For example, the Anytime Feedback Tool is a gadget that exists in the company directory with the objective of making it possible for workers to interact with the management team about the progress, or lack of their colleagues (Kantor & Steitfeld 2015). While these tools can be used by a section of employees to settle personal scores with their colleagues, it is also a valuable tool as it creates two centers of authority in the workplace. Essentially, the employees from opposing teams can decide to unite to execute projects of mutual interests as opposed to having a go at one another.

Direct democracy

In this mode of political rule, everyone within the organization has the right to participate in making decisions at any one given time regardless of their title or job designation (Morgan 1997). More importantly, Kane and Patapan (2012) believe this type of political rule encourages workers to take initiative and self-organize as opposed to waiting for instructions on even incidental matters. As can be noted from the example of Amazon, there are several instances that demonstrate the existence of direct democracy. For example, it is Amazon’s policy to allow workers of all staff to tell each other’s ideas during meetings without fear of being blame by someone because the company’s founder is a strong believer that this free exchange between workers breeds creativity (Kantor & Steitfeld 2015). As noted by experts, direct democracy is critical in technology based companies because strict and conservative atmosphere restrain creativity.

Thus, Amazon allows even the junior workers to make major contributions as can be seen from the company’s development of the delivery-by-drone concept which it made public in the year 2013. Essentially, this project was reportedly a brainchild of one of the lower subordinate engineers called Daniel Buchmueller (Kantor & Steitfeld 2015). Another example of direct democracy at Amazon can be seen from the company’s use of the Anytime Feedback Tool. Whereas employees whose details are sent to the management team may not be aware of who recommended or criticized their work ethic, it offers every single employee an opportunity to speak their minds about issues or people freely. This tool may also be handy in giving honest feedback about the work environment or conditions to the management.

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As mentioned earlier, Amazon employs a form of social structure that involves the competition of workers’ ideas and the best of these win. During this time, workers are encouraged to challenge one another freely. This cherish the feeling of fairness as the workers believe anyone of them has a chance to advance since promotions and other forms of rewards are given on the basis of merit with no favoritism. More importantly, employees are confer the opportunity to defend their colleagues if they feel such workers are being criticised unfairly. As can be noted from the article, the various line supervisors are given time to prepare their case which they can then use to defend members of their teams that are just about to get laid off (Kantor & Steitfeld 2015).

Conclusion

This essay wanted to demonstrate that Amazon, through its founder Jeff Bezos employs the various mode of political rule in running the world’s largest E-commence business. My analysis was based on an article carried in the New York Times detailing the experiences of both past and present workers at the company. Consequently it emerged that Amazon uses Autocracy, bureaucracy, co-determination, technocracy as well as direct democracy in various aspect of the organization. With regard to autocracy, it is possible that the company’s employees are forbidden from speaking to the media apart from top hierarchy position. This show just how closely Amazon controls information coming out of the company.

Similarly, the workers’ confessions in the article suggest some level of bureaucracy in the management cycles. For example, the company has certain rules, some of which are obviously counterproductive going by the high number of people leaving the company. However, it is clear that the company is unwilling to change these rules even in the face of these massive turnovers. Besides bureaucracy, there are traces of co-determination at the company as can be seen from the company’s policy that makes it possible for workers to work mutually towards their common interests rather than continue to work at cross purposes.

The most obvious mode of political rule used at Amazon is technocracy and this is evident in several scenarios. For example, all Amazon employees are expected to master the complicated details of their work as well as the organization as the founder believes the knowledge enables them to solve customers’ problems better. More importantly, the company relies on performance sets to determine the fate of their employees meaning data forms a big part of the operational philosophy. Overall, Amazon’s believes is hiring and training the very best as they believe only those with specialised knowledge have the capacity to steer the company to the direction intended by the owner and founder.

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