I read a fascinating NY Times article on Sunday about the work culture at Amazon. It directed me to a list of “Leadership Principles” the company distributes to new employees and publishes on its website.
Here’s Amazon’s first principle of leadership:
CUSTOMER OBSESSION – Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.
There’s nothing unusual about a successful business saying it makes customers a top priority, but what struck me was how different this is from the arts, where leaders never obsess about customers, and where leaders would never dream of starting with the customer and working backwards. In the arts, we start with ourselves and work back to ourselves. Customers are a priority only to the extent that they’re willing to be caught up in this loop.
I wouldn’t recommend adopting Amazon’s management approach, necessarily; the article makes it sound pretty scary. But I can’t help wondering what would happen if leaders of failing arts organizations started obsessing about customers for a change – especially the new ones they’re going to need to keep their organizations alive.