Do You Use Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Empty-Chair Strategy?


Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos frequently leaves one seat empty at the company’s most important meetings. It’s there for the most important person in the room – the customer. According to Forbes, Amazon tracks its performance against five hundred measurable goals. And nearly 80% of them relate to customer objectives. The obsession with understanding the customer gives Amazon the confidence to innovate freely without fretting about short-term results, Bezos says. “We don’t focus on the optics of the next quarter; we focus on what is going to be good for customers.”

As a CEO, you can implement this strategy successfully to help your business succeed. But here is a word of caution – make sure your team is culturally intelligent. David Livermore, thought leader in cultural intelligence (CQ), a global leadership and the author of “Leading with Cultural Intelligence” says the danger arises when senior executives simply assume the person represented by the empty chair values what they do. And if everyone in the meeting comes from the same cultural background, it’s going to be tough to get a grasp of the preferences and opinions of the customer.

David Livermore, a speaker at The Global Leadership Summit 2018 advises CEOs to not just go ahead and add an empty chair to their most important meetings, But also to follow these guidelines to make it effective.

Don’t make assumptions: Don’t assume everyone wants what you want. Remind everyone in the meeting that their own values and perspectives can’t be applied to all customers.

How much do you really know: How much do you and your team really know about your target audience? What are their specific needs and desires? How will our meeting address them?

Perspective-Taking: Do we really have the ability to step outside our own experience and imagine the perceptions and motivations of the customer? If we do, it will help us predict:

  • What does our customer (or prospective customer) value?
  • What’s going on in his/ her mind?
  • What would s/he say about the ideas we’re discussing right now?
  • Are we able to constantly adjust our perspectives based on further observations, emerging trends, and real-life interactions with our customers?

David says that without cultural intelligence, you will not really benefit from adopting this Amazon practice. But an empty chair + cultural intelligence is a smart, strategic way to keep your meetings focused on the most important people your organizations exists to serve – your Customers!

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David Livermore
President, Best-selling Author | Cultural Intelligence Center

David Livermore is a social scientist in global leadership and cultural intelligence—the capability to relate effectively across culturally diverse situations which transcend ethnic, organizational, generational, gender and other contexts. As president and partner at the Cultural Intelligence Center, he has provided training and consulting in 100 countries. Livermore has authored several books, including Leading with Cultural Intelligence and Driven by Difference: How Global Companies Fuel Innovation through Diversity.

This article originally appeared on The Global Leadership Network.