Based on House’s Path Goal theory of leadership, identify two types of leader behavior (e.g. directive, supportive, etc.) in the article.
House’s Path Goal theory of leadership poses four leadership styles. The styles are directive leadership, supportive leadership, participative leadership and achievement-oriented leadership (House 325). In Amazon’s leadership approach, the directive style and achievement-oriented style are the only two styles that seem to fit. The supportive style requires the leader to have good relations with the subordinate and to be sensitive to the subordinate’s needs, neither of which would seem to fit what Amazon does with its employees. Certainly, some participative leadership style can be found in the decision making process, but the stronger styles are directive and achievement-oriented styles.

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The directive style of leadership is probably best demonstrated by Jeff Bezos’ fourteen leadership principles or articles of faith (Kantor and Streitfeld 4). These provide a direction or hiring and operating as an Amazon employee. They are to be taken seriously and followed closely; after all, they are the way Amazonians should act (Kantor and Streitfeld 4). Similarly, the achievement-oriented style is clear in the drive to be the best possible employee and emphasis on spending less time with the family and more time at work. Employees are encouraged to put in as many hours per week as possible under the belief that achievement comes from hard work. It also seemed to manifest in the idea of ranking employees and letting the lowest ranked personnel go at the end of each year. You either produce or you go.

The article mentions what Amazon calls “Leadership Principles”. From an organizational culture perspective, these principles can be seen as “espoused values” that would manifest themselves at the level of observable cultural artifacts. Choose two of the principles/espoused values listed below and explain how they are manifested in Amazon’s cultural artifacts using specifics from the article.

The two principles chosen for this analysis are hire and develop the best and insist on the highest standards. It is stated policy to hire only the best potential employees, which is not too much different from the attitude of most companies. However, the cultural artifact that best manifests this principle is the list of “Leadership Principles” (Kantor and Streitfeld 6). These are more than just guides for work; they are guides for shaping behavior along the lines of what it means to be an Amazonian. The notion is that we hired you because we thought you were good, but we want to make sure you fit in and succeed, so learn and live these principles. The fact that Amazon has a culling out period each year to get rid of the lowest ranked individuals suggests that Amazon does not want anyone who is not the best (Kantor and Streitfeld 2).

The second principle – insist on the highest standards – is closely related to the first one just discussed. Amazon does not cater to its employees. In fact, they are treated just the opposite. Jeff Bezos believes that harmony within an organization is too often overvalued by organizations. Consequently, employees and managers are encouraged to be brutally honest in their assessment of someone else’s work or ideas. The article made note of one employee being thoroughly castigated by his boss only to be told immediately afterward that he had been promoted (Kantor and Streitfeld 9). Amazon drives its employees to drive themselves to be better, but usually at the expense of something else in their lives. For example, employees are pressured to spend less time with their families, and if they become ill or fall behind in an area, they are put on a “performance improvement plan”, which essentially says your job is in jeopardy unless you spent more time on work (Kantor and Streitfeld 14)..

Assess Amazon on four of the “Six Content Dimensions of Organizational Culture” and illustrate with specifics from the article.

The six dimensions of organizational culture are: Process oriented vs. results oriented; employee oriented vs. job oriented; parochial vs. professional; open system vs. closed system; loose control vs. tight control; and, normative vs. pragmatic (Beshay and Sixsmith 83). With respect to Amazon, it is rather obvious as to how it operates on these six dimensions. This answer will analyze the first four of these dimensions.

Amazon’s culture is results oriented rather than process oriented. The most important factor in ranking employees is their results. Amazon strives to do really big and innovative things, which are difficult to accomplish. Unless an employee is willing to get results regardless of what it costs, he or she is likely to be culled at the annual culling time. Amazon is also job oriented, not employee oriented. Amazon is just not interested in anything but the results and the job, and catering to employees is not a priority with the company. Amazon is parochial in its culture. Once hired, employees usually take on the culture of the organization as their personal culture. Amazon drives its employees to drive themselves. Finally, Amazon is a closed system. Employees are required to keep Amazon’s operations a secret. In fact, the reporters who wrote the article could speak with only designated employees (Kantor and Streitfeld 4).

Drawing on elements from the article, characterize Amazon’s structure on the following dimensions – formalization and centralization/decentralization.

Amazon is a formalized structure in that it operates by a set of principles that guide operations and employee behavior (Chen 1). It is a hierarchical, top-down reporting structure with centralized decision making. Jeff Bezos is the decision maker and the one who established the articles of faith for the organization. Since whatever is done must pass through Bezos before it can be done, Amazon is a centralized organization when it comes to decision making.

  • Beshay, Maggie and Sixsmith, Alan. “Dimensions of Culture: A Project Perspective.” Communications of the IBIMA, Vol. 5: 82-88. Print.
  • Chen, Xi. “Formalization in organizational structure.” HR and Organizational Structure andStrategy, March 31. Print. http://hr-organizational-structure-strategy/
  • House, R. J. “A path-goal theory of leader effectiveness.” Administrative Science Leadership Review, 16: 321-339. Print.
  • Kantor, Jodi and Streitfeld, David. “Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Business Workplace.” The New York Times, Aug 15. Print.