Amazon executives are typically a reclusive bunch. So its was a rare treat when Jeff Wilke, Amazon’s senior vice president of consumer business, took the stage this week at Seattle University as part of the Albers Executive Speaker Series.
In an hour-long talk, Wilke laid out the core leadership principles that make up the tech and online retail juggernaut.
Wilke’s appearance was rare, but his presentation format — PowerPoint — was also unusual. According to Wilke internal meetings at Amazon start with everyone in the room spending up to 45 minutes reading in silence as they digest detailed documents known as “narratives.”
“We write our thoughts down because we expect leaders to deep dive,” said Wilke.
Amazon believes so strongly in the power of bringing business visualizations to life by writing them down that the company’s new product concepts start with a press release.
“We try to write the headline and the press release that you’d want to use at the launch of a new product,” said Wilke, showing a slide of the initial press releases that managers conceived for products such as AmazonSmile and AmazonStudent. “It is a way to visualize the things that we want to build.”
Putting thoughts to paper. Reading those thoughts. Sharing and selling big ideas in written form. As our communication options continue to explode its incredible to hear that a company like Amazon still considers it its most powerful method.
Here are the 14 core leadership principles as described by Wilke and on Amazon’s Web site:
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.
Vocally Self Critical
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.