When the boss of one of the biggest companies of our times speaks, you listen. Jeff Bezos, the Founder and CEO of Amazon, released his annual letter to the company’s shareholders and needless to say, it is a treasure trove of knowledge for companies.
This year marked the 20th anniversary of his annual letter to his shareholders, where he points out the values that make Amazon what it is today. In particular, the letter offers great insights on what constitute ‘high standards inside an organization”. And coming from the boss of an organization with over 560,000 employees, the words are worth their weight in gold.
High standard are teachable
In his letter, Jeff Bezos speaks about how high standards are not intrinsic but teachable.
“I believe high standards are teachable. In fact, people are pretty good at learning high standards simply through exposure. High standards are contagious. Bring a new person onto a high standards team, and they’ll quickly adapt. The opposite is also true. If low standards prevail, those too will quickly spread. And though exposure works well to teach high standards, I believe you can accelerate that rate of learning by articulating a few core principles of high standards, which I hope to share in this letter.”
High standards are domain specific
Next, Jeff points out that high standards are hard to achieve and are domain specific.
“I believe high standards are domain specific, and that you have to learn high standards separately in every arena of interest. When I started Amazon, I had high standards on inventing, on customer care, and (thankfully) on hiring. But I didn’t have high standards on operational process: how to keep fixed problems fixed, how to eliminate defects at the root, how to inspect processes, and much more. I had to learn and develop high standards on all of that (my colleagues were my tutors).”
Thus he advocates that one can consider oneself a person of high standards in general and still have debilitating blind spots. There can be whole arenas of endeavor where one may not even know that one’s standards are low or non-existent, and certainly not world class. It’s critical to be open to that likelihood.
In order to achieve high standards, he says that first one has to be able to recognize what good looks like in that domain. Second, one must have realistic expectations for how hard it should be (how much work it will take) to achieve that result – the scope.
High standards matter
Lastly, Jeff explains why high standards matter.
“Building a culture of high standards is well worth the effort, and there are many benefits. Naturally and most obviously, you’re going to build better products and services for customers – this would be reason enough! Perhaps a little less obvious: people are drawn to high standards – they help with recruiting and retention. More subtle: a culture of high standards is protective of all the “invisible” but crucial work that goes on in every company. I’m talking about the work that no one sees. The work that gets done when no one is watching. In a high standards culture, doing that work well is its own reward – it’s part of what it means to be a professional.”
In conclusion, he adds, high standards are fun!
“Once you’ve tasted high standards, there’s no going back."
We could not agree more with him!
Image source: Fortune