Values of a Great Company: Amazon.com
It was Thursday, February 3, 2015. I joined about 3,000 people at the Washington Hilton, where President Barack Obama was scheduled to speak at the National Prayer Breakfast. It was a memorable day for me. I was keenly aware that I was in the presence of world leaders and dignitaries, such as the Dalai Lama. So, I was surprised that I would learn so much from the gentleman sitting next to me.
Pioneers in Customer Service
After making my way through security, I found my seat near the back of the room. I introduced myself to the gentleman on my right, Greg. He said he worked for Amazon.com. So, I asked him if he knew Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO. I highly esteem Jeff Bezos as one of this century’s pioneers in business and innovation, not to mention his amazing acumen for customer service. Greg grinned, “I meet with him weekly for an hour.”
From that point forward, I was intensely interested in what I could learn from him. Since I have been writing about team values, I naturally asked Greg what values Amazon espouses. Greg pulled out his phone and showed me their company values (listed below). He said these are truly the values that Amazon employs to evaluate their people. Greg graciously gave me permission to reference our conversation in this article. I appreciate his leadership and his contributions to the executive team at Amazon who provide premiere customer service to their users.
I plan to study these values for the next few months and contemplate how we might incorporate some of them into our organization. I hope you will find them as helpful as I have. It is refreshing to see companies such as Amazon and Apple that are wildly successful, yet remain customer-centric. We can all learn from them. Perhaps that is exactly why they are so successful. Amazon’s yearly revenue is about 90 billion.
At the end of the breakfast, after all the great speeches had been given, I could not help but tell Greg to give my best regards to Jeff Bezos—from a most appreciative customer and someone who holds him in high esteem. In fact, to both Jeff and Greg, and the rest of Amazon’s leadership team, I express a warm thank you!
Visionaries in Organizational Values
Here are the Amazon values that Greg shared with me. I hope you will make time to read and study them carefully. Much like I described in my preliminary post about Team Values, each value is just a few words, which makes them memorable. And there is a sentence or two to follow, which expounds upon its meaning. It is also noteworthy that Amazon references leadership as a core tenant of how they expect everyone’s role within the organization to be fulfilled.
Whether you are an individual contributor or the manager of a large team, you are an Amazon leader. These are our leadership principles and every Amazonian is guided by these principles.
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.
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.
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.
We try not to spend money on things that don’t matter to customers. Frugality breeds resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, and invention. There are no extra points for headcount, budget size, or fixed expense.
Leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume. Leaders come forward with problems or information, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing. Leaders benchmark themselves and their teams against the best.
Earn Trust of Others
Leaders are sincerely open-minded, genuinely listen, and are willing to examine their strongest convictions with humility.
Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, and audit frequently. 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.
Actionable Step: Study these values over the next few days to weeks. Borrow from them those that you would like to add to your organization’s or team’s values.
About me: I have been systematically studying the book of Psalms for the last couple of months. It has been powerful to see how a great Biblical leader (King David) prayed to God.
For Further Reading: