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Alibaba’s Daniel Zhang shares leadership tips

Alibaba Group chief executive Daniel Zhang shared some of the key values that shape the company’s culture and leadership approach with senior managers at the company’s omnichannel supermarket chain, Hema.

Speaking to the Hema team recently, he said the most important thing is not to put values on a pedestal, but live and breathe them every day.

“Values shouldn’t be words written on plaques on the wall,” Zhang said. “[They] should become part of the way we think and act automatically.”

A business’s culture will act as the glue that holds everything together, Zhang said, and it must remain a top priority at all levels – from headquarters to the store associates.

Zhang went on to share six values that he believes drive the culture at Alibaba: a customer-first mentality, a fair working environment, treating people like people, finding your passion, bearing responsibility for your own decisions and remaining humble.

Putting customers first should be reflexive for managers, and they need to push this mantra through all levels of the business. This will keep every associate on the same page, and ensure each customer gets a level of service they expect.

“Before realising good corporate culture, you have to first be a good person,” Zhang said. “That is the starting point.”

Senior management should keep this in mind, and work to inspire team members to ensure they are having a positive impact.

Zhang believes it is important for leaders to find their own inspiration and drive, which will help their team to identify their own. It’s about making small changes, he said, such as not using the term ‘boss’ and keeping a simple and transparent working structure without privileges for higher ups.

“Go back to the basics of being human, starting with our team,” Zhang said. “Only by doing this can we spread this value throughout the different levels of the organisation, one by one.”

It is also important to promote talent development within the business and provide employees the opportunity to learn and grow their skill set. Formal systems, such as training programs, need to be in place in order to support this value, though it is equally important to be able to have understanding and flexibility in regards to staff.

“You have to be flexible to relate and resonate with other people,” Zhang said, noting that doing so allows teams to better connect.

Of course, there are some roads management need to travel alone, and in these instances, they need to be confident in their ability to make the right decisions.

That’s why it’s important to remember to remain humble, Zhang said. This will enable leaders to see more clearly what is expected of them and what they can contribute to the team.

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