At the start of 2021, employees of an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, began casting votes to form a union. If they won, the union would dramatically change the future of work in America and the billion-dollar tech giant.

Amazon claimed a victory as the vote closed on April 9th, declaring that more than 50% of workers were against unionising. While Amazon got away with it this time, it isn’t to say that the idea of unionising is far from over. Warehouse workers far and wide for Amazon are experiencing the exact relentless nature of production quotas and dehumanising their fundamental rights to reach targets.

In Amazon’s latest mission statement, they claim that they aim to be Earth’s most customer-centric company and continually raise the bar of the customer experience by using the internet and technology to help consumers find, discover and buy anything.

But unfortunately, their customer experience and billion-dollar profits are at the cost of their employees. By setting production goals over their employee’s wellbeing, they continue to be mission-driven but not mission-led.

In this article, we uncover the result of production-focused companies, what it means for the future of work, what companies can do to change, and their impact by building a well-balanced goal culture.

Production focus over people-focus

Now more than ever, companies understand the importance of leveraging their mission-driven statement to attract talent, investors and customers. But if you look under the hood of their romantic claims, you see an organisation prioritising production and a quick return instead of the wellbeing of their employees.

More often than not, creating a culture that focuses only on achieving high-valuation goals can create an environment where employers treat employees like a cog in the machine, thinking the social validation and cool office perks will keep them moving forward.

Before the Amazon union vote, Daryl Richardson, an employee of the Bessemer warehouse, said that he was delighted to have landed a job working for the world’s richest man. Still, only five months after the warehouse opened, he quickly realised that what he thought would come from working with such a large, customer-centric company like Amazon was the complete opposite.

Daryl described getting treated as just a number with the same expectations as a robot and the pace of work as relentless with every minute being watched. Even time to do basic things like to get a drink of water or going to the bathroom is closely tracked and can quickly put employees behind on their race to reach their targets and keep their job safe.

But Amazon’s not the only unicorn to have a toxic underbelly. Companies like Uber, Facebook and WeWork have mission statements that sell the tech-startup dream but fall short on protecting the well-being of the people who matter the most: their employees.

Besides high profits, what’s the outcome?

Across several industries, there are catastrophic effects of companies making big promises to change the world but not actually implementing the right processes within their structure to act on these promises. Instead, they leave diversity, employee wellbeing and company culture as an afterthought.

When leadership fails to prioritise the things that matter most, they build a culture where employees are checked out and emotionally drained. The sort of company that disguises a production goal culture with workplace perks, is the first to fail its employees.

In recent news, Amazon has had almost 50 of their executives leave company over the last couple of months. The executives complained of stalling growth, higher pay elsewhere and a tough culture. The change comes shortly after their new CEO joined and presents an opportunity to change how Amazon leads and protects its employees.

How can companies change

Because one company puts production first and another puts their people first doesn’t mean one will be more successful. A great example is Costco. As the second largest wholesale retailer in the world, it consistently beats out its competitors with 12.9 percent annual growth. But with so many objections on the retail model, they had to discover how they would keep people shopping with them. To do this, culture was not the most important thing but the only thing. For founder James Sinegal a culture of promoting passion, integrity, ownership and motivation in his employees and ensuring customers their getting the best price is the core of the company and the key to its success.

Here are just a few of the ways that companies can change from a production goal focus to a more holistic approach to culture and profits.

  • Exponential growth vs sustainable growth. Instead of trying to achieve exponential growth quickly, companies can work towards sustainable growth that doesn’t leave the wellbeing of their employees behind. Gone are the days of doing overtime without reaping the benefits. Companies now have to think about how they can create balance between achieving big goals and keeping company morale high.
  • Winners and losers vs win-win. At Amazon, when employees underperform are given a PIP (performance improvement plan). It’s one of the many grievances of Amazon employees and is considered to be code for ‘you’re in danger of being fired’. The program creates a winner loser culture that keeps people from wanting to collaborate and work together. Perhaps it’s possible to avoid PIP if the message is win-win instead of win or lose.
  • More vs enough and better. Companies for more and more with little to give will see high employee turnover and emotionally drained teams. Instead, companies can offer support when things are enough and empower their employees to do better.
  • Quantity vs quality. One of the complaints from workers at the Alabama Amazon warehouse was the unreasonable production quotas. They treated humans like robots and kept them scared for their job. When companies focus on quality, they build more productive employees and happier clients.

So, what’s the result of positive goal culture?

The way a company decides to lead its organisation can profoundly affect the future of work and how industries operate. Leadership should be continuously helping to build its organisational structures, practices, and culture. Therefore, leadership needs to understand that positive goal culture starts with them. It can influence both employees and clients by embodying the companies core values and its commitment to delivering on its promises.

The key to finding success is introducing inclusive, equitable, and innovative organisational models and practices that help generate a competitive advantage without leaving employees behind. As companies try to become true leaders in the sector, they must carefully consider their leadership approach, choose which best practices in organisational management to implement, and what metrics to use to measure their progress that is both production and culture focused.

For more helpful reading, take a look at this blog post on the power of upskilling employees.

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