Why You Shouldn’t Manage Your People Like “Robo Amazon”

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Published by Scott Ford

When I speak at wealth advisor conferences, I’ll often ask, “What are you going to do when a company like Amazon comes into our business? How are you going to compete with that level of customer knowledge combined with that level of technology?” Amazon’s growth strategy is inspiring and expansive.

If a recent New York Times article on Amazon’s culture is accurate then its approach to people and human resources, however, is not of the same caliber. As Verne Harnish, author of Scaling Up, has pointed out, founder and CEO Jeff Bezos’s approach will not be sustainable unless he quickly replaces people willing to work around the clock with robots.

Currently it appears that only those who can survive Amazon’s culture of relentless, unending work can keep their jobs. One Amazon veteran told the Times about an occasion when she didn’t sleep for four days straight; another employee said he usually worked an 85-hour week.

For the record, Bezos later issued a letter to employees saying he didn’t recognize his company as it was portrayed in the article. He said Amazon was depicted as “a soulless, dystopian workplace where no fun is had and no laughter heard.”

Given that nearly 100 people were interviewed, I believe there has to be an element of painful truth to the hard-hitting article. And if Amazon is indeed grinding every last bit of productivity out of its people, Bezos risks derailing its growth by creating a such a culture.

Relentless overwork can derail your wealth advisory firm, too. In our industry, most independent advisors are worried about the threat of robo advisors – robots giving advice and doing the work of a skilled advisor! No doubt that technology will keep changing the landscape of our industry. But the best way to compete against the robo advisor is through great service – not harder work, increased demands on teams, longer hours and skipping lunches. High-level service requires good people who have enough balance in their lives to be productive, creative, impactful and efficient. As the old saying goes “culture eats strategy or hard work any day.”

One doesn’t need to run a business the size of Amazon to understand this. We have all seen what happens during crunch times when we hunker down with our teams and put in 12 or 14 hour days. There is a diminishing return on those extra hours of work. We burn out and make more mistakes.

As a firm, we also lose out on great ideas. Can you think of a single breakthrough you had when you had spent an 80-hour week at work? For me, innovation bubbles to the surface when I am far from my desk and I have the time and space to let flow happen.

Create a culture that rewards this behavior or makes this the “norm” (by stringing together days like this) and in the end clients suffers from the “madness.” They will vote with their feet for robo advisor services.

Balance in a business leads to growth. Growth, in turn, allows you to maintain an environment where everyone actually has balance. This is what Ron Carson and I describe as the Sustainable Edge in our upcoming book.

Allowing your team to achieve balance also allows you to attract the next generation of talent. Millennials are known for wanting the freedom to live a full life outside of work. They don’t accept that being chained to your desk leads to greater productivity. I agree with them. When I take my next vacation, I am leaving my laptop at home and asking my team to take my calls. I hope my team does the same. Allowing time to recharge is the best way to achieve the Sustainable Edge.

Amazon may be setting the pace with its strategy, but not with its people.

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