“The joke in the office was that when it came to work/life balance, work came first, life came second, and trying to find the balance came last.” –A former Amazon employee
In August 2015, The New York times published a scathing critique of the work culture at Amazon.
The article shows what happens when a data-driven culture runs off the rails—when performance and achievement are valued at the expense of team members’ wellbeing and when the drive for innovation causes high turnover and discontentment.
(Amazon refuted many of the newspaper’s claims, saying that the story was unbalanced and poorly reported, and indeed, many employees came to the company’s defense.)
Why a “culture of testing” works
In truth, a company that embraces data and testing does not have to be a cold and exacting place to work.
A healthy company culture is one where employees are engaged and energized.
They feel valued, respected, and useful.
They rise to the challenge of achieving company goals.
When testing is part of the fabric of a company—when it becomes a way of thinking, not just a siloed department—the culture is healthier. Here are five reasons why:
#1: Team members understand that everything is a work in progress.
Trends and technologies are always changing—and so are your customers. Therefore, the digital experiences you create for your customers should never be finished.
Companies deep in experimentation understand this mindset. Testing and optimization is never a one-and-done deal. Each test brings new learnings to apply to future iterations; those in turn bring new insights and ideas to try.
Smart teams understand that this applies to employees, too. In fact, one of Amazon’s principles is to “hire and develop the best.”
Note that it’s not, “Hire a mediocre employee and turn him into a superstar.” Instead, a healthy culture is built on hiring superstars, and then nurturing and empowering them to do their best work.
#2: Collaboration is in their DNA.
Testing and optimization is not a solo pursuit.
It demands working with others during nearly all stages of the testing process, from generating testing ideas to QA to data analysis. Working together builds comradery and a shared sense of purpose.
When people are involved from the beginning to the end of the process, it creates ownership and enthusiasm. But collaboration is threatened when teams are siloed.
Working with stakeholders from each group, from creative and analysts to in-store and online teams, can encourage knowledge-sharing and help align goals.
#3: Everyone’s ideas are valued.
A healthy testing culture is driven by data, not HiPPOs. That means that anyone, from the VP of marketing to the business development intern, can come up with a test idea that wins big.
The best companies put this into practice through experimentation expos, interdepartmental brainstorming sessions, gamification, and other internal activities.
They also use data and insights from all corners of the company, including customer service, call center, and sales teams.
This was something that Amazon got right, according to some employees interviewed for The New York Times article: One of the inventors of the new delivery-by-drone project was a junior engineer.
#4: Team members learn from losses.
“It is only through failure that we learn. Many of the world’s finest minds have learned this the hard way.” –Richard Branson
A company with a thriving testing culture thinks about failure differently. Team members understand that flat tests—or even flat-out losses—are incredibly valuable, as long as you can learn from them.
If a test fails but is designed well, you’ll be able to look at the secondary metrics to identify possible trends and insights. This may give you ideas for future tests.
Losses are particularly valuable when viewed through the lens of risk mitigation. For example, they can save a company millions of dollars by helping them avoid mistakes during a redesign or site release.
#5: It’s all about empathy.
A healthy testing culture is focused on the customer—the task she is trying to accomplish when she comes to your site.
Team members don’t rely on numbers to tell the whole story. They recognize the importance of qualitative data, from user testing to customer surveys, in understanding the customer and deciding what to test next.
They hear and respect input from the UX team, recognizing that good design is rooted in empathy.
And they know that “customer-centricity” isn’t just a buzzword. While the business has well-defined business goals and steadily works toward them, they know that there’s value beyond revenue-focused metrics.
How do you define a healthy company culture? What are the most effective aspects of a testing culture? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.