If you haven’t heard of Tim Bray before, an Amazon executive, engineer and hobby blogger, you probably have now. On May 1st, Tim Bray, quit Amazon, giving up what he claims was over a million dollars (combining his high salary, stock options and likely other benefits). In a long blog post, he explains that he quit over what he said was a ‘toxic culture’.
Interestingly, quitting wasn’t Bray’s first response. He loved his job, his team, and the company. He tried to address things from the inside, as he details in his post, supporting labor movements to get workers fair pay and address climate control. Bray makes a distinction in the work/life balance and at work satisfaction of AWS workers (highly skilled and therefore highly paid) and the warehouse workers, who he claims are treated as “fungible units of pick-and-pack potential.” Bray points out that it’s not just Amazon that treats people this way, but it’s a by product of how 21st century capitalism is done, across the board. Other leaders at Amazon have publicly disagreed with Bray’s statements, but he makes it clear that he is speaking out of his own experience.
Living here in Seattle, we hear all the time that Amazon is a ‘tough’ company to work for, with a callous “chew them up and spit them out” culture. At the same time, I have friends who say it’s the best job they’ve ever had. Bray gives Amazon credit for what they have so far done to respond to the crisis, but his resignation was designed to address something much more subtle—a misalignment of values with operations. When whistle-blowers and folks who were speaking out about their concerns over safety conditions began to lose their jobs, Tim had had enough.
It’s normal for times of crisis to bring out hidden problems and leave them open for all to see, and Amazon, like many other large, transnational conglomerates, are prime examples of this. What is much less normal is to see an executive not only stand up for their values, but hold to that position even to their own detriment. These days, we often see leaders speaking out for what they believe in—whether diversity in the workplace, people-first leadership or culture-change—but leaving a job that brings significant riches, that’s a whole other ball game. He wanted to send a message—our actions don’t match our words—and he did.
As leaders, how can we stay true to our values when our livelihoods are what lie in the balance? And what’s the right way to take action when our company’s actions don’t match it’s internal or external messaging? Whether or not you agree with the details he has shared, and of course all humans are biased, I think Tim Bray gives a great map to follow.
- Stay Abreast of, and Join in With, Grass Roots Actions
As a leader, you don’t have to be the one that starts a movement for change, but keeping your ear close enough to the ground to know what is going on with your troops, what their concerns are, and what they are organizing around, is a great way to ensure you have a pulse on the culture of the organization right down to the ground floor.
In Bray’s case, he participated in walk outs, rallies and petitions about issues that he cared about, and that he believed were all connected. And for awhile he felt like that was working and that senior leadership was taking it seriously.
- Elevate Issues Through the Proper Channels
When you see things that don’t sit right with you, how do you address it? Do you take the time to thoughtfully approach the right senior leaders and share your concerns? Tim Bray did. While the details are protected, Bray claims he elevated his concerns to what he believes were the right people in the right manner.
If you are at an organization that truly believes what they preach, has clear and concise values and tries to live them, then this is a good option to pursue. No company is perfect and we shouldn’t expect them to be. But making mistakes and learning from mistakes are different things. How fast your company adapts to obvious failings once brought to their attention can tell you everything you need to know about what kind of place it is when things get hard.
- Send a Message
This can almost only be done when you are in a position of power. I once left a job I loved over a value disagreement and it didn’t really have the impact I had hoped for—mostly because I was a junior leader and easily replaceable. If, however, you are in a senior-level position, your actions can be what drives the message home, but it takes real courage.
At the end of the day, Mr. Bray felt that to stay on at Amazon meant signing off on actions he despised, and he wasn’t willing to do it. And, disagree with his reasoning or not, the message was sent and a national (and we will hope, internal) conversation was started, and we gotta give him credit for that.
DANIELLA YOUNG IS A TEDX SPEAKER, AN AUTHOR, COMBAT VETERAN, ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE-HACKER, HOST OF THE CULTURE-HACKING PODCAST, BOARD MEMBER OF OPERATION CODE, & THE CO-FOUNDER OF CAVNESSHR—AN HR-TECH COMPANY WHO’S MISSION IS TO MAKE BIG-BUSINESS HR AVAILABLE TO SMALL BUSINESSES, AND HELP YOU RECOVER HOURS IN YOUR WORKDAY. DANIELLA SPECIALIZES IN HELPING BUSINESSES CREATE CULTURE ROADMAPS, LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT PLANS & EFFECT TEAM TRANSFORMATION. WANT TO LEARN MORE? VISIT OUR WEBSITE AT cavnesshr.com.
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