Jeff Bezo's on Wednesday released Amazon's annual shareholder and while it was chockfull impressive metrics around Amazon's business, it also had sage-like wisdom on building a culture of high standards. Here are some of the highlights (check out the link for the business metrics):
Customer expectations can be met, but are not static
Customers are inherently discontent and its due to human nature. You can satisfy a customer today but you cannot rest on those laurels as they will want more tomorrow. Its not a flaw but rather a feature as humans would not have evolved from early hunter gatherers days without this (See “Sapiens” by Yuval Noah Harari). This leads to the next point
Institute high organizational standards
Organizations should strive to have high organizational standards in order to continue to meet the ever rising expectations of customers. Are high standards only intrinsic? Not according to Bezos who believes they can be learned by being around those who also have high standards. The corollary is also true, low standards can spread pretty quickly.
Handstand coaches exist
It takes about 6 months to become a great handstand practitioner. You might be able to be a coach after you master it but this leads to the next point.
You need to be able to recognize what is great in a specific domain and then have realistic expectations on what it takes to be great in that area.
Coaches dont have to be experts at a skill, but rather experts at developing those who have those skills
Skill is important but not a required element when placed in the context of teams. At least someone needs to have the skill but teams should be complementary. The example he gave relates to football coaches and quarterbacks. A football coach doesn’t need to know how to throw but does need to recognize the high standards for throwing and be able to teach realistic expectations on how to improve the skill of throwing.
So, the four elements of high standards as we see it: they are teachable, they are domain specific, you must recognize them, and you must explicitly coach realistic scope. For us, these work at all levels of detail. Everything from writing memos to whole new, clean-sheet business initiatives. We hope they help you too.
Insist on the Highest Standards Leaders have relentlessly high standards – many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. -- from the Amazon Leadership Principles