It's always Day 1.
It's why a letter to shareholders can become a clinic on how to lead, how to manage, how to operate, and how to execute a business model.
It's a principle that removes distance and friction from the "us" of a producing organization and a "them" characterizing consumers of what's produced.
Most headlines crawling digitally across our ever-shorter attention spans this week called out Amazon's big news nugget--100 million global members of Amazon Prime, paying $99 a year, in 50 cities, in 9 countries. A truly astonishing, attention-grabbing business achievement by one of the world's biggest and most-valuable going concerns.
What may go unnoticed in the vortex of that $9.9 billion revelation is that, in and of itself, it's a factoid that reflects what Amazon and its more than half-a-million associates have been able to accomplish, but there's more to it than that. The more to it has to do with what Amazon and its associates have not yet accomplished, and how they'll set themselves a path forward that will make the $9.9 billion Prime factoid a fond, modest memory one day, eclipsed profoundly by what would happen next.
Day 1, and the fact that, at Amazon, it's never not Day 1--from the very first letter to shareholders Jeff Bezos wrote 20 years ago through this very morning--it's always Day 1. It's simple. If it's not Day 1, you die as a business, but not before suffering stasis, irrelevance, and decline in a painful sequence of stages, slow or fast.
You can see clearly what that means when you read the 2018 Bezos letter to shareholders. Where does the letter start? Where else? With customers.
The American Customer Satisfaction Index recently announced the results of its annual survey, and for the 8th year in a row customers ranked Amazon #1....
Customers, it's clear from Jeff Bezos' plain-spoken language, are not merely a relentless obsession. They're an unrepentant source of fascination and delight, "divinely discontent," "never static" and "voracious."
Rightfully, for a company whose single central impetus is declared to be "the Earth's most customer-centric company," customers take the lead in the hierarchy of "shareholders."
Full credit for why customer satisfaction ratings and rankings are what they are at Amazon goes to "the now over 560,000 Amazonians who come to work every day with unrelenting customer obsession, ingenuity, and commitment to operational excellence." Bezos, in this well-crafted yearly letter, spells out exactly who and what Amazon is:
"Amazon is 560,000 employees. It’s also 2 million sellers, hundreds of thousands of authors, millions of AWS developers, and hundreds of millions of divinely discontent customers around the world who push to make us better each and every day.
And the kicker that may be of the highest value of all to home builders, who are busier than ever selling, designing, engineering, developing, planning, and building homes in the Spring of 2018 is about setting and keeping high standards, a subject near and dear to the hearts of BUILDER's audiences, and one that ties directly to the pure gem of insight about long term thinking that matches up perfectly to how builders need to approach business strategy, culture, and operations.
Bezos offers a parable here about high standards, where leadership plays a role in setting them and where culture self-sustainably can deliver on them.
A close friend recently decided to learn to do a perfect free-standing handstand. No leaning against a wall. Not for just a few seconds. Instagram good. She decided to start her journey by taking a handstand workshop at her yoga studio. She then practiced for a while but wasn’t getting the results she wanted. So, she hired a handstand coach. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, but evidently this is an actual thing that exists. In the very first lesson, the coach gave her some wonderful advice. “Most people,” he said, “think that if they work hard, they should be able to master a handstand in about two weeks. The reality is that it takes about six months of daily practice. If you think you should be able to do it in two weeks, you’re just going to end up quitting.” Unrealistic beliefs on scope – often hidden and undiscussed – kill high standards. To achieve high standards yourself or as part of a team, you need to form and proactively communicate realistic beliefs about how hard something is going to be – something this coach understood well.
If we're prey to short-term motives, high standards either won't happen or collapse on their own weight. They're teachable. They're specific to each and every domain of our design, engineering, construction, and customer interaction operations. They're startlingly simple to recognize in their presence and bluntly conspicuous in their absence. And here's a bit about the pay-off you get when you have them and sustain them.
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.
And finally, high standards are fun! Once you’ve tasted high standards, there’s no going back.
All this is to say that we don't need a Jeff Bezos to tell us this. Many home builders, many people who do their part in making homes and communities eat, sleep, and breathe the Day 1 mantra, and make it their business and purpose to remove as many of the points of friction as possible between themselves and those who are looking to buy a home.
That goes for every part of the home building, building product manufacturing, materials supply, and channel of supply of all of these parts and pieces--down to the sub-component level--ecosystem. This is crystal clear in Home Depot's initiative, covered here by Wall Street Journal staffer Sarah Castellanos, to bring on 1,000 new tech employees who'll work to remove more of the friction between the building products and materials giant and its professional and consumer customers. Castellanos writes:
The new employees will help build technology to support several specific initiatives [per Home Depot chief information officer Matt Carey].
One initiative includes outfitting self-checkout counters with customized point-of-sale software that’s intuitive for the customer. Another involves building software for a mobile app that allows employees to see their upcoming work schedule. The company is also enhancing the personalization of its website and improving user experience by using data analytics to help customers quickly find what they’re looking for.
“It’s all about connecting a person as quickly as possible to the product they’re looking for in the world of the web,” he said.
Another initiative is aimed at building out machine learning algorithms to help categorize different home furnishing styles for the company’s new decor business. That way, people could help shop for a specific room in their house based on products that fit into a specific style, such as a modern or traditional style.
The company is also building out new technology to support an expansion of its same-day delivery and two-hour delivery program, which requires software to support the supply chain. All of the initiatives were driven by customer and associate feedback, Mr. Carey said.
“The closer we listening to those customers and fulfill what they’re telling us they want and need, that’s how we can compete,” he said.
Sound familiar? We're all in the customer experience and intellectual property business now. And the good news is, it's Day 1 for us all.