jeff bezos day 1 leadership

Are You a “Day 1” Leader?

Tim Sackett Leadership, Tim Sackett

Jeff Bezos is the founder and CEO of Amazon. You might have heard of him, or at least you’ve heard of his company. This year Amazon will do over 100 billion in revenue. Like most publicly traded company CEOs, each year Bezos sends a letter out to stockholders. Unlike most publicly traded CEOs, Bezos’s letter is unlike everyone else’s!

For the 2016 year end, Bezos sent a letter out to his shareholders, but it might have been a manifesto to all stakeholders of Amazon, explaining how he wants all who work, supply, and support Amazon to work and act in a manner of someone who is beginning a company “Day 1”.

Here’s his explanation:

I’ve been reminding people that it’s Day 1 for a couple of decades. I work in an Amazon building named Day 1, and when I moved buildings, I took the name with me. I spend time thinking about this topic.

“Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”

To be sure, this kind of decline would happen in extreme slow motion. An established company might harvest Day 2 for decades, but the final result would still come.

I’m interested in the question, how do you fend off Day 2? What are the techniques and tactics? How do you keep the vitality of Day 1, even inside a large organization?

Such a question can’t have a simple answer. There will be many elements, multiple paths, and many traps. I don’t know the whole answer, but I may know bits of it. Here’s a starter pack of essentials for Day 1 defense: customer obsession, a skeptical view of proxies, the eager adoption of external trends, and high-velocity decision making.

The full letter is amazing and motivating and you’ll probably want to buy and invest in Amazon stock after reading it.

I love the “Day 1” concept for leaders. Most of us start out on that first day of becoming a leader or start a new job, completely living in Day 1. But soon, we fall into the Day 2 trap!

Day 1 leaders are never satisfied with the status quo. Great, we’re growing at 10%, but you know we easily could be at 12% or 15%! Day 1 leaders are non-stop, in a way that is not horse-whipping, but in that wondrous, almost naive, way of truly believing Santa is showing up on Christmas morning.

Day 1 leaders don’t think they and their teams can do it, it’s the only thing they feel in their bones! It’s the only thought they have when they wake-up, and the only thing they dream of.

Bezos knocks this out of the park on leadership focus as well:

#1 – Be Customer/Client Obsessed – If you’re an HR or TA leader do you know who your customer truly is? Have you defined it? And what do you and your team do to remind yourself every single day about how you’re getting better for them, not for you?

#2 Resist Proxies – What the heck are proxies? From Bezos, “A common example is process as proxy. Good process serves you so you can serve customers. But if you’re not watchful, the process can become the thing. This can happen very easily in large organizations. The process becomes the proxy for the result you want. You stop looking at outcomes and just make sure you’re doing the process right. Gulp.”  Ugh! This happens so much with us in HR and TA!

#3 Embrace External Trends – I write every day and speak around the world as an advocate for HR and TA to embrace trends! Is every trend going to be right for you? Heck no! But, some will, some will change your world for the better and help you become world-class! We are slow to embrace trends in HR and TA, Day 1 leaders are not.

#4 Become a High-Velocity Decision Maker – In HR and TA we try to make high-quality decisions, but this means we usually make decisions at a snail’s pace. High-velocity decision making is about making the best decision you can in the least amount of time, knowing it might not be perfect, but because it was made quickly, you now give yourself time to adjust. Also, turns out most of your high-velocity decisions will turn out right to begin with!

Every day I strive to be a Day 1 leader. It’s so easy to get pulled into the Day 2 leader trap! I want to always be the leader that views the world as the first day I started. So much to do, so much to improve, so much to change. What kind of leader are you going to be today?

*Hat tip to my friend Laurie Ruettimann for getting me on this letter!