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Is Amazon re-thinking the importance of employee empowerment?

wormAn article in this month’s publication of the HRDirector features an article that focusses on the societal shift from institutional control to individual empowerment, and the implications this might have over the coming decade.

The HRDirector is always a thought provoking read and, as I flicked through the pages, I was drawn to two other articles whose rhetoric linked to the belief that it is the empowerment of your human capital that will drive organisational development and societal change, more than the assimilation of new technologies and other influences.

Santiago Garcia, in writing ‘Your Old Road is Rapidly Agein’ discusses how HR departments need to evolve faster to embrace all the changes in the complex, uncertain environments of today.  Leaders can no longer have all the answers, and success depends on a company’s ability to ‘unleash the initiative, imagination and passion of employees at all levels.’  The synopsis that ‘everything suggests that we are moving towards a future where people management may become the ultimate source of competitiveness’ very much correlates with this.

However the second article that caught my eye initially seemed to contradict this.  It looked at an organisation that has traditionally and strategically, it seems, put its employees much lower in its priorities, and yet has been extremely successful.   The feature focusses on Amazon and the changes it has made since swallowing up Zappo five years ago.  Zappo was famously employee-friendly, but Amazon had never previously been overt in its people management focus. Their fundamentals were customer focus, long term growth and data based decision making.  Everything that was not about these three success indicators was not deemed important.

However Jeff Bezos (Amazon CEO) has recently been communicating a new-found appreciation of empowerment that may, or may not, have come from Zappo’s influence, but what it shows is that even a successful organisation like Amazon cannot ignore the importance of taking employees very seriously. Bezos has shown that, as a great leader, he has to adapt and ‘reframe’ and has thus responded to the importance of his employees.  It will be interesting to see if this new rhetoric continues at Amazon and the impact it has.

 

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