Forbes has a good story on Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com. The one theme which came out strongly was Bezos’s focus on the customer. And he uses a fantastic strategy in my opinion for that.
Jeff Bezos’ managers at Amazon find him formidable enough. But the figure that overwhelms their lives goes by the internal nickname “the empty chair.” Bezos periodically leaves one seat open at a conference table and informs all attendees that they should consider that seat occupied by their customer, “the most important person in the room.”
If the empty chair is the ultimate boss at Amazon, then Bezos is its billionaire enforcer, the guardian of what he calls the “culture of metrics” that tries to give that inanimate object a loud, clear voice. Amazon tracks its performance against about 500 measurable goals. Nearly 80% relate to customer objectives. Some Amazonians try to reduce out-of-stock merchandise. Others race to build a bigger library of downloadable movies. Intricate algorithms turn one group of shoppers’ past habits into custom recommendations for new customers. Hourly bestseller lists identify what’s hot. Weekly reviews keep track of who is on course—and where corrective attention is needed.
I this is an extremely powerful metaphor to use and a very good one to use too. As Drucker reminded us, “the business of a company is to create a customer” and to do that you need to know how you are performing for the customer.
I think this is even more important in the social sector. If you are working for families or children or aged people or disabled or inner city youth or homeless or anything else to be able to leave a empty chair in meetings as a metaphor and continue to focus on that is quite important. In the myriad number of decisions that we make everyday and the effect of the now and urgent on our thinking its so easy to forget whom we are trying to make a difference for and our mission.
The empty chair is a good metaphor for that.