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I’m revelling in the numerous lessons that I uncovered from Amazon’s shareholders letter where Jeff Bezos described that Amazon will not be a Day 2 company (Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. see last week’s post).   While I have been pondering these, there was one that really hit home and that was the maxim stating you should disagree and commit.

Not only did this have a special mention in the Shareholders letter, it is embedded in Amazon’s leadership principles:

  • Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit: Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.

When I was bothering the information super highway researching a bit more detail on how this principle works in practice I soon found that this wasn’t just an Amazon principle it was actually credited to one of the godfathers of Silicon Valley – Andy Grove of intel.

Now in my career, I’ve worked in a mix of companies from the high performing market leading companies doing everything they can to remain a day 1 company through to the very definition of a day two company.

Some of these truly great companies had a very clear vision and objectives, so in theory then the only disagreement should only be on relative priority and that is a function of value, effort, urgency, delight and impact but unfortunately the bigger the company the more things were driven by personal agendas, self-protection and self-promotion.  In fact, the larger the company the bigger the gap between this principle and reality.

So that got me thinking…. what would happen if we lived by Disagree and Commit principle

  • Instead of being passive aggressive, how about argue passionately and take a position – but whatever the decision fully commit
  • Instead of saying I told you so / I knew it wouldn’t work, how about throwing all your resources at it
  • Instead of finding reasons why not, how about asking what would I need to believe to make this work
  • Instead of wearing down the other party by asking for more and more information, how about getting to 70% 80% of the information that you need, deciding and committing.  You can always put milestones in and make decisions/pivot as you go
  • Instead of being proud of being right that something would fail, how about accepting that you were part of the team and you didn’t do enough to make it work
  • Instead of when you disagree with a product or proposition starving it of resources, how about working as hard as you can to implement because that way, when it fails, you know it was because of the bad idea, not a bad implementation
  • Instead of instead of making generalisations and using samples of one, how about working with facts, insights and getting market validation
  • Instead of being afraid of making a tough decision due to potentially hurting someone’s feeling creating zombie projects, how about debate, decide and move on
  • Instead of listing just to find a place to respond, how about listening properly to the end, debating the facts and don’t just wait for a gap in the conversation to say “yes, but”

How about I leave you with this summary from Intel:

Keeping your mouth shut when you disagree isn’t being a good soldier. But disagreeing, losing the fight, and committing to help the winning plan succeed, now that’s being a good soldier

KS