If you're competitor focused, you have to wait until there is a competitor doing something. Being customer focused allows you to be more pioneering.
– Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO
One of my golf buddies is an Amazon addict.
This guy LOVES Amazon. On the course, he’ll say, “This driver, Amazon. These shoes, Amazon. My bag, Amazon.” He also talks about the stuff in his house and often will instant-order something when we’re backed up on the tee.
Don’t worry, I’m not judging him (or you) because I have my moments, too. This is why Amazon has roiled the retail sector, sending familiar brick-and-mortar stores reeling.
The company’s latest acquisition of Whole Foods, where I happen to be writing this article, is shaking up the grocery business.
Taking over the world
I hear people say Amazon is taking over the world. You can understand that reaction when you think of the company’s broad footprint: Four of every $10 spent online is with Amazon (43%); 80 million American households (65%) have Prime membership; it’s pushing the use of drone delivery; its owner is a pioneer in the space exploration business and owns the influential newspaper The Washington Post.
With this in mind, I was excited when I met an Amazon leader on a recent plane trip. I had been wondering about Amazon’s culture, the secret sauce. In talking about leadership, he brought up the company’s Leadership Principles. He said Amazon stresses the need to use the principles as the basis for all decisions and activities – to actually LIVE the principles.
For instance, he noted that Amazon is a low-margin business that requires frugality throughout the company. “We don’t stay at fancy hotels and our customers know we won’t take them out to expensive restaurants. It’s not who we are.”
I was intrigued and reviewed these principles on Amazon’s employment website.
The simple definition of Amazon's Leadership Principles is that they are 14 principles that focus on how Amazon leaders and employees should create value for their customers, conduct themselves, make decisions every day.
I can see the Amazon customer experience reflected here and find a lot of wisdom and direction for leaders in these 14 leadership principles:
Amazon: Our Leadership Principles
Our Leadership Principles aren't just a pretty inspirational wall hanging. These Principles work hard, just like we do. Amazonians use them, every day, whether they're discussing ideas for new projects, deciding on the best solution for a customer's problem, or interviewing candidates. It's just one of the things that makes Amazon peculiar.
Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.
Leaders are owners. They think long term and don't sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say "that's not my job."
Invent and Simplify
Leaders expect and require innovation and invention from their teams and always find ways to simplify. They are externally aware, look for new ideas from everywhere, and are not limited by "not invented here." As we do new things, we accept that we may be misunderstood for long periods of time.
Are Right, A Lot
Leaders are right a lot. They have strong business judgment and good instincts. They seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs.
Hire and Develop the Best
Leaders raise the performance bar with every hire and promotion. They recognize exceptional talent, and willingly move them throughout the organization. Leaders develop leaders and take seriously their role in coaching others. We work on behalf of our people to invent mechanisms for development like Career Choice.
Insist on the Highest Standards
Leaders have relentlessly high standards—many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and driving their teams to deliver high-quality products, services, and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed.
Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers.
Bias for Action
Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk-taking.
Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency and invention. There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size, or fixed expense.
Learn and Be Curious
Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them.
Leaders listen attentively, speak candidly, and treat others respectfully. They are vocally self-critical, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing. Leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume. They benchmark themselves and their teams against the best.
Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, audit frequently, and are skeptical when metrics and anecdote differ. No task is beneath them.
Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit
Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.
Leaders focus on the key inputs for their business and deliver them with the right quality and in a timely fashion. Despite setbacks, they rise to the occasion and never settle.
Amazon’s principles are a simple and clear statement of how its leaders should operate in a rapidly changing world. These principles become even more interesting when you realize they are actually a guide for leaders to be the creators of disruption throughout the world.
Many of my clients have similarly well-articulated leadership principles which they use to influence their cultures.
Does your organization have leadership principles? Do you use them every day to inform your decisions and actions? Do you have your own principles?
These are questions worth considering in a world of disruption across every industry.
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