Over a year ago, The New York Times published a scathing piece portraying Amazon, the world's largest retailer, as a brutal employer that puts innovation and company performance above the well-being of its people. The authors painted a picture of "unreasonably high" standards, colleagues sabotaging one another, and managers who deal callously with workers enduring family tragedies and serious health problems.
"We're launching a new annual review process next year that is radically simplified and focuses on our employees' strengths, not the absence of weaknesses. We will continue to iterate and build on the program based on what we learn from our employees."
According to reports, Amazon currently uses employee ratings as a way to identify high- and low-performers. This controversial management technique has been used extensively in Silicon Valley, although many companies have done away with the practice.
Some may see this as a carefully crafted PR device, but you can be sure it was reviewed, revised, and redrafted multiple times before getting approved--no doubt by Bezos himself.
And it contains a major lesson for all of us.
How Bezos Got It Right
So, what makes this statement so great?
One major reason:
Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos demonstrated remarkable emotional intelligence in his ability to process feedback. [My forthcoming book, EQ, Applied, is a practical approach that illustrates just how EQ works--and doesn't work--in the real world.]
From the beginning, I appreciated Bezos's quick response to the allegations of the Times story.
He may have felt the criticism was unduly biased. ("I don't recognize this Amazon, and I very much hope you don't either," Bezos told employees.) But through an internal memo, Bezos nonetheless encouraged Amazon employees to read the Times story, and to "escalate to HR" any stories they knew of like those reported--even inviting individuals to email him directly.
Only those on the inside really know what it's like working for Amazon, and even then there are bound to be varying perspectives. (Amazon employs more than 300,000 people worldwide.)
But with Bezos's initial response, and now the announcement of changes in the company, Amazon's founding father shows the ability to set emotions aside and learn from criticism--even if it's not delivered in an ideal way.
We can all learn from that attitude.
Whether you're an employer or an employee, criticism is never easy to take. You've invested blood, sweat, and tears in your work; it's natural to be offended when someone says you're wrong.
But the truth is, criticism is often rooted in truth. When you receive negative feedback, there are two choices:
- You can put your feelings aside and try to learn from the situation.
- You can get angry and let emotion get the best of you.
Guess which one's going to benefit you?
Even if negative feedback turns out to be mostly unfounded, it can still give you a chance to see from an alternative perspective. (My forthcoming book, which serves as a practical guide to emotional intelligence, outlines more specific strategies for how you can make sure you benefit from criticism.)
To be clear, I'm not excusing criticism that's hurtful or poorly delivered. If your feedback is thoughtful and empathetic, the chance is greater that the recipient will benefit. (You should also be generous with sincere and specific commendation.)
But if you're on the receiving end of negative feedback, don't waste time thinking about how the other person made you feel. Instead, set your emotions aside and ask:
- How can I use this feedback to help myself or my team improve?
- Putting my personal feelings aside, what can I learn from this alternative perspective?
Bravo to Bezos and company for using that negative feedback as a catalyst to grow.
If you do the same, you'll only keep getting better.