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Why we all need to be more Amazonian

By Emma Kane
17 April 2020

By Emma Kane, Chief Executive

The clear winner in the Covid-19 crisis is Amazon. It’s a story that began in 1994 about incredible technology and its founder’s total obsession with the only thing that really matters – the customer.

As with every great business, it all starts with its Mission Statement. For Amazon it is, “Our vision is to be Earth’s most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”

But unlike some organisations, this is just the start, it then has a whole eco-system to turn the vision into reality and ensure that the business is robust and scalable because, to quote Sam Walton of Walmart, “There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.” 

Jeff Bezos just took understanding what his customers want to a whole new level.

Its Leadership Principles consist of its six core values plus additional virtues.  These apply to every single employee because at Amazon they expect everyone to be a leader. 

Their Customer Obsession Leadership Principle states, “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.”

And then Amazon has its Human Resources Tenets such as, “As we develop new programs and services, we work backwards from the employee and candidate, understanding our work has a direct impact on customers. We prioritize work that results in measurable impact for our customers.”

Critically, it ensures that it is hiring the best and it seeks to be the most scientific HR organization in the world.  Amazon prioritizes work that results in measurable impact for its customers and manages HR as a business.  Just as Apple understood that simplification was what the customer wants, so does Amazon in its processes – it seeks to simplify everything rather than just throw more resource at it.

To hire the best people it has a unique process called their Bar Raiser Program which is directly linked to its Leadership Principles.  A Bar Raiser is at every interview to be an objective third party to ensure that the company is always “serving, surprising and innovating for customers”.  Their role is to be a steward of Amazon’s 14 Leadership Principles.  They are called Bar Raisers because their job is to raise the standard with each hire – each person hired should be better than 50 percent of those currently in similar roles.  They have three responsibilities – to assess candidates for the specific role and for long-term success at Amazon; to make sure there is an open, accurate and fair assessment of the candidate with every member of the interview loop participating in assessment of the candidate; and finally, they are responsible for helping hire managers and others prepare for interviews ensuring they ask questions related to the Leadership Principles and the competencies that are needed for the position.

In a world that is no longer about supply-driven but demand-driven relationships, Jeff Bezos has created a workforce of nearly a million people who all understand the mission, the values and what it required of them and created a business in Amazon that rightly holds the position as one of the most desirable companies in the world, recognised as the ultimate utility - defensive, reliable and indispensable.  So, while we are all working from home, we should be asking ourselves.  Do we really understand what our customers think and want, the experience they want to have, how we can make every one of our employees understand what matters and how to deliver it?  Do we have the right business model?  Do we have the right team?  Have we asked the right questions?  Do we know how to communicate in a way that everyone understands what our mission is and their part in it.