I was at a presentation today in which the presenter, Amazon employee, listed Amazon’s 12 Leadership Principles and spoke briefly on how seriously Amazon takes these principles. I’d not seen these before but I immediately loved them for being a list of exactly the ingredients every company wishes it had in its workforce in today’s digitised, connected, mobile, social world.
It feels to me like it’s a list that has been shaped and pruned until it contains exactly the right items – no more, no less. So I think it has great applicability beyond Amazon and I have put some of my immediate thoughts on each heading (which may or may not align with the Amazon intent behind each one).
The list and explanations has has for each can be found in full here, on the Amazon website. Below is my take on each:
- Customer Obsession: if we all had this, a keen interest in what people who buy from us would want, we wouldn’t need 4-day off site strategy meetings to align on goals.
- Ownership: thinking like an owner, behaving like an owner, would mean thinking twice about whether it was the right thing to fly in business class, or leave the lights on, or leave early on a Friday. Because which owner does that? Ownership would mean saying something when you see something that isn’t acting in the interests of the company, calling out entitlement or waste or just over complication of simple things. Because which owner wouldn’t?
- Invent and Simplify: invention means keep on trying. And while you are trying, find a shorter, quicker, neater way to keep on trying. To invent means to be open to failure and frustration as a necessary part of the invention process.
- Are Right, A Lot: this is tough. Because being right means being confident you know your stuff. But there’s a balance to get between being right and thinking your are. And in being so confident that you become arrogant. And that being right becomes the end goal. So it’s one that needs to be tempered with humility. Amazon does say good leader in this space “work to disconfirm their beliefs”
- Hire and Develop the Best: leaders who can identify good talent, are able to land them, and then develop that are scarce. Holding leaders accountable for this would increase the chances of it happening. I’m not sure if it’s in hiring managers to have metrics on this one but imagine if we did? In performance targets? How much more attention would hiring managers pay to qualitative outcomes then?
- Insist on the Highest Standards: how do we get better if we don’t have high standards and stick to them? And leaders help their teams to make the jump across the chasm that lies between ordinary and exceptional.
- Think Big: suddenly that PowerPoint presentation all starts to be rather meaningless, doesn’t it?
- Bias for Action: this is as obvious as the nose on your face. Except, so often it’s not. Meetings about meetings. Meetings to align. Aligning to align. Analysis paralysis. Who took the actions and who is following up? There’s an awful lot of inaction in a lot of large companies. If we all felt compelled to act more and talk less (in accordance with the checks and balances created by the other 11 principles, of course!), a lot more invention would be going on.
- Frugality: as a procurement person, I would like this one. But it links well to thinking like an owner. Why buy the Maserati when a bike-share will do?
- Learn and Be Curious: another obvious one. And yet so many of us think this requires a course, paid for by the company. It has never been easier, in mankind’s short history, to learn. It’s all online and Wikepedia has made it easy to find. Seeking out the knowledge and getting it between our ears is a time commitment, not a money commitment.
- Earn Trust: Being Human 101. No one wants to work with someone they don’t trust.
- Dive Deep: For me this is about knowing your subject matter inside out. So you can be right, a lot. How many of us, hand on heart, can say we would know how to do this in our areas. Cf. Learn and Be Curious.
- Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit: Speaking up, even when you disagree is crucial to businesses not making expensive errors. I have seen so many projects trundle on when someone should have called time on them way earlier. Bad ideas, bad organisation, bad direction. All reasons to call a stop. Even a temporary one. But, because a senior stakeholder had an interest, people just let it happen. I love the idea of backbone, but less the argumentative variety and more the Brené Brown sort.
- Deliver Results: what are you hired to do? are you doing it?
If we had companies populated with these attributes, they would run themselves. And if Amazon has even a tenth of its 500 000 employees with these attributes, little wonder its the force that it is.
More practically, this is a great list of reminders of the kind of conduct I want to see in myself.