Human Resources: Obsess over customers

Q. Why does company culture matter?
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Monday, September 30, 2019

A. The culture you create and the employees you hire will determine if you will be Kodak or Amazon.

George Eastman, Kodak’s founder, realized the need to embrace disruption outweighed his concern of failure. He did this twice, 1) giving up a profitable dry-plate business to move to film and 2) investing in an inferior color film product.

Kodak didn’t need to fail. It was their culture and decision making that determined their fate. Executives were afraid to fail. Kodak wasn’t surprised by the digital transformation, it invented the first digital camera in 1975. However, instead of marketing the new technology, the company let fear of failure outweigh the opportunity for growth. George Fisher, Kodak’s CEO, regarded digital photography as the enemy that would kill paper business. He was in love with his product and not the solution to the customer’s needs.

George Eastman said: “You push the button, we do the rest.” George Eastman would have embraced the digital revolution. George Fisher appeared to say, “You push the button, we do the rest, so long as it’s film based.” 

I had the pleasure of spending time at Amazon and saw how their focus on hiring the right employees and building the right culture drives its success. At Amazon, innovation starts with the customer and then the team works backward. They are obsessed with the customer whereas Kodak was obsessed with the product. Amazon encourages healthy debate and asking lots of questions. In the hiring process they are testing for 14 key principles (i.e. ownership, strong judgment, desire to improve, willingness to listen and bias for action)

Who you hire and the culture you build will determine if you will be able to move from “You push the button, we do the rest,” to “say Alexa, we do the rest.”

Laizer Kornwasser is president/COO at CareCentrix. Reach him at laizer.kornwasser@carecentrix.com