The Amazon Choice: CX vs. Talent-First Culture?

By now you’ve likely read the NY Times article on Amazon’s controversial internal culture, and perhaps even CEO Bezos’ response to the reports and allegations. There’s a lot to discuss there but what I see now buzzing in the heads of current and would-be CEOs is the new choice they have, namely that in today’s economy should the ultimate priority be the big CX: customer experience (even at the expense of your employees’ well being) vs. Talent (and the winning the talent war).

With a small presence in California now, my business and I have been exposed to a Silicon Valley talent war which has apparently been raging since ~2012, with Google’s “death benefits” dueling with dogs in the office, Bruce Willis’ chef, and “cash for babies” from Zynga and Facebook. In this “war,” leading and aspiring new economy companies are prioritizing the attraction, development and retention of top talent with a bevy of incentives, seemingly bizarre perks and rewards, and culture-focused initiatives to stand out from the competition. I’ve seen creative, new “we care about you and your family” perks seemingly every week. Based on the success of these companies, some of this has even seeped east to Silicon Alley where ca$h had previously been king.

The premise is simple: get the best, make them happy and keep them, and they’ll help you attract, delight and retain customers. Shiny happy (and healthy) people begat customer and company success and happiness – R.E.M. and Kate would approve. Win-win-win for all involved, right?

Well, now there is a seemingly very different (and successful), model on display from Jeff Bezos and Amazon. This very non-California model is one that prioritizes customer experience (CX) over everything else, including employee health and well-being (and employee retention). While many workers cringed at the NY Times’ latest and earlier allegations, I personally know CEOs and executives who now feel vindicated regarding criticism of their relatively scorched-earth HR policies and see Bezos as having the best new “model for success.”

My question to you and to my young, aspiring CxOs at NYU: If you had to pick one over the other, would it be CX or would it be talent as your ultimate #1?


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