If all you care about is hitting the numbers, it can be argued that it does.

Values is the word that makes many a driven, hard-nosed exec lean back with skepticism. When you think about Amazon, you think ‘bad culture’ because of the working condition exposed, which we’ll unfortunately hear more about in the future no doubt.

But on a purely one-dimensional view, Amazon has got values spot on. That dimension is business performance. We can of course debate the sustainability of a business that reputedly treats people terribly to achieve success on this one dimension. And at Kin&Co we believe strongly that a one-dimensional view is a long way from right. But that’s not the point I’m trying to make, to do so would just be preaching to the converted.

In his 2016 letter to shareholders, Mr. Bezos said Amazon reached $100 billion in annual sales faster than any other company, and Amazon Web Services (their cloud computing subsidiary) reached $10 billion in annual sales faster than Amazon itself hit that high. Time for that hard-nosed exec to put his elbows on the table and lean in.

“Under the surface, the two are not so different after all. They share a distinctive organizational culture that cares deeply about and acts with conviction on a small number of principles.”

These principles are organisational values, because values are simply principles you value over others. Principles that you apply to everything. Every decision, every appraisal, every hire, every day.

So what are theirs? Let’s hear from the man himself.

“I’m talking about customer obsession rather than competitor obsession, eagerness to invent and pioneer, willingness to fail, the patience to think long-term, and the taking of professional pride in operational excellence.”

Five of them. Which is a good number because people can remember them. The rule of three and fives.

Jeff shows he’s actually very astute when it comes to defining culture. He says:

“A word about corporate cultures: for better or for worse, they are enduring, stable, hard to change. They can be a source of advantage or disadvantage. You can write down your corporate culture, but when you do so, you’re discovering it, uncovering it – not creating it.”

That’s exactly how we define values. It’s about deep listening, proof from repeated experience. Values that are true are based on truth from the organisation’s past, but stretch the organisation to achieve its vision, mission and goals in the future.

Putting aside their approach to tax and working conditions, which I admit is hard to do, you cannot dispute the data. Focus on a few key principles, or values, delivers results. That’s what values are for if you’re a hard-nosed exec who only cares about the numbers. And that may be a good story to appeal to the people who see values as ‘fluff’ in your business.

Written by David Willans, Director at Kin&Co.

Image from the creative Grant Hollingworth, thank you.