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High Standards and Amazon, with an added extra on Listening


Reading time 4 minutes. Jeff Bezos is the Founder and CEO of Amazon. Every year he writes a report to all "Shareowners" as he calls them, which include every stakeholder in the business, including staff. His 2018 version has a wonderful explanation of why high standards have been an important part of the companies success. My summary (it was 6 pages long) is below:

  • Amazon have 560,000 employees - now thats big

  • Jeff Bezos's net worth is larger than the GDP of 150 nations - interesting little factoid!

  • Amazon have just been ranked #1 in the American Customer Satisfaction Index for the 8th time in a row. A similar index in the UK has ranked Amazon #1 5 years in a row, and Linked In has just ranked Amazon as the most sought after place to work for professionals in the USA

  • Bezos's answer to all that? By far the biggest reason is the companies (and Bezos's) absolute and relentless intent to ensure High Standards in the company

  • One thing he loves about Customers is that they are "divinely discontent" (I love that phrase - I can think of many areas where that can be used!) Their expectations are never static - they go up. Its human nature. Yesterdays "wow" quickly becomes todays "ordinary." The way to stay ahead of rising customer expectations is to ensure high standards, throughout the organisation at all levels. Amazon have learnt a lot about this on their journey - some successes and some Billion dollar failures. These are the insights they have learned along the way

  • High Standards are teachable. They are contagious - bring someone into a high standard team and they will quickly adapt. Unfortunately the opposite is also true. If low standards prevail those too will quickly spread

  • High Standards are not "Universal." In other words, if you have high standards in one area of your organisation you will not necessarily have them in other areas. So we have to learn what high standards mean in every area of the business. Bezos explains that even now there are areas of Amazon where they still don't know what high standards look like. But this is important because it keeps you humble and continually reassessing yourself

  • To achieve high standards in any area of your business you need two things - recognition of what "good" looks like in that area, and a realistic expectation of how hard it will be to achieve (the scope). Amazon use "six page memo's" to explain recognition and scope. They don't use Powerpoint (it's banned!) These memos form the framework of high standards. They are not written in a day. They can take weeks, being shared amongst teams and across functions. They are only completed and circulated when there is an agreement of what the standard is and how it is going to be achieved. It takes time!

  • To write six page memos that are "world class" someone has to have skill in writing. But these memos never have an author - they are the product of a team. Even though, someone has to have the skill! They have found that this skill can be latent - someone that you least expect will suddenly turn into a poet!

Just as an added extra today, the art of listening. Now we can all gain from this. I have talked to most of you about the three levels of thinking, well at last we have the 5 levels of listening (with thanks to The Black Swan Group):

  • Listening for the Gist. Listening long enough to get the gist of what the other side is saying, before we stop listening and start to compare it against our view, and so formulate our reaction

  • Listening to Rebut. We all know this one. We listen long enough until the incoming message hits a trigger. The trigger is something that we can rebut or argue against. Once heard we simply wait (no listening here) until the other side shuts up so we can get our six cents in and prove ourselves much smarter than them

  • Listening for Logic. We really start to listen at this third level. We are attempting to understand the other sides logic. If this is there view, what is their logic behind it?

  • Listening for Emotion. At the fourth level we are listening for emotions, signs that this is important to the other side. These emotions may (unlikely) or may not (likely) make sense to us, but we recognise their importance to the other side

  • At the fifth level, at long last, we are listening to their point of view. Here we are getting through the cursory meanings of what the other side is trying to say and actually beginning to understand their point of view. For negotiators or for any of us attempting to influence others, we must begin to understand them. We cannot hope to negotiate or influence without that understanding. This is all about listening for the deeper significance. Its not easy and we cant do it all day. But when the moment demands it, we must!

Keep well, focus on high standards and listen more at the fifth level

Cheers

Phil Pickford

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