CX Journey™ Musings: A Lesson in Living Your Core Values

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Have you seen Jeff Bezos’ annual shareholder letter for 2018?

Within the last few weeks, Bezos released his 20th annual shareholder letter. Each year the letter is filled with strategy lessons about customer experience, employee experience, leadership, innovation, and culture. And I love how he always attaches his very first shareholder letter to each year’s letter. (Because it’s always Day One at Amazon.) It’s been great to follow and to see the evolution, maturity, and growth in him, his thinking, and the business.

Bezos writes in a style and a tone that is likable and relatable – not in corporate speak but in human terms, words we use every day. That alone wins him major points!

There seemed to be an even stronger obsession for all things employee and customer (if that’s possible) than in the past, and I felt that he was really trying to convey a powerful message to teach others about how to do business right. Retailers are already on red alert – as more and more shut down – but there’s a lot to be learned from Amazon. Retailers – and other businesses alike – can survive and grow in today’s environment, if they have a similar obsession.

While I understand that not everyone has an amazing experience with Amazon, my own personal experience has always been that when it’s wrong, they make it right. No business is perfect, but I would imagine that any other company that gets it right 98% of the time would be pretty pleased. And so would their customers.

As I read this year’s letter, I thought it was heartfelt and had a slightly different approach from previous letters. It became apparent to me a couple paragraphs in that it was written through the lens of Amazon’s core values, or leadership principles as they are now referred to.

As you read the letter, think about their 14 leadership principles, quoted here from their site:

Customer obsession
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.

Ownership
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.

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.

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 (this was a major focus of the letter)

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.

Think big
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.

Frugality
Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency and invention. There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size, or fixed expense.

Earn trust
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.

Dive deep
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.

Deliver results
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.

This year’s letter is a lesson both in leadership and in living your core values. The two go hand in hand, without a doubt. Executives aren’t exempt from living the core values, and Jeff Bezos is no exception. As a matter of fact, he’s the cheerleader!

Culture = values plus behavior. The way executives communicate with their employees, their customers, and their shareholders is a reflection of the core values, and hence, of the culture.

How do your executives communicate? Is it through a lens of the company’s core values?

The CEO is not in charge of the company; the values are. If, at the end of our careers, we have not passed along positive values, we have abdicated our leadership role. -Dave Logan

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