Updated: Feb 24
By design or default, every organization has a culture. In its simplest terms, culture is defined by what the organization values and rewards through actionable compensation, promotion, and hiring/firing.
I typically encounter the following types of cultures. While all of them can be financially successful, I believe the consistency of the third one is the easiest to manage, lead, replicate and scale.
The stated values are marketing slogans and not practiced values.
There are no stated or practiced values, but rather situational values or unwritten intentions.
There are written, practiced, and measured values imbued into the operational fabric.
Amazon is a good example of a company with written, practiced, and measured values. Amazon employs its values to dominate one industry after another. Let's look at Amazon's values and see if they are practiced and see if Values=Culture=Brand. Here are Amazon's 14 principles or values
1. Customer Obsession
Leaders start with the customer and work backward. 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."
3. 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.
4. Are Right, A Lot
Leaders are right a lot. They have strong judgment and good instincts. They seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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 drive 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
11. 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.
12. Dive Deep
Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, audit frequently, and are skeptical when metrics and anecdotes differ. No task is beneath them.
13. 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.
14. 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.
While not perfect, there is a lot to learn from Amazon about leadership, continuous improvement, innovation, and being client-centric. I would say they have very clearly stated and practiced values that match their outcomes.
I think most of us will agree in the case of Amazon, Values=Culture=Brand. Amazon applies the same approach to entering and dominating every industry segment it enters. While not always successful (remember the Fire Phone), Amazon applies its 14 principle values with discipline and focus to create long-term competitive advantage and domination. Amazon's business values guide their culture and optimize their business model.