Amazon's Leadership Principles

The Amazon’s Leadership Principles are a set of fifteen leadership principles that guide the actions and decisions of their leaders. Each principle is written as a sentence with an action for employees to take in certain scenarios. This sets them apart from other companies’ documents on ethics which can be very long and complicated.

Amazon’s Leadership principles are:

  • Customer Obsession.
  • Ownership.
  • Invent & Simplify.
  • Are Right, A lot.
  • Learn and Be Curious.
  • Hire and Develop the Best.
  • Insist on the Highest Standards.
  • Think Big.
  • Bias for Action
  • Frugality
  • Earn Trust
  • Dive Deep
  • Have Backbone; Disagree & Commit
  • Deliver Results
  • Strive to be Earth’s Best Employer

We’ll look at each of Amazon’s Leadership principles in-depth and discuss how they apply to the modern workplace. These principles are the backbone of Amazon’s success as a company and are necessary for any growing business.

Amazon’s 14 Leadership Principles

Amazon has a list of fourteen leadership principles that guide the actions and decisions of its leaders. Each principle is written as a sentence with an action for employees to take in certain scenarios. This sets them apart from other companies’ documents on ethics which can be very long and complicated.

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.

The first principle, “Customer Obsession,” stems from Jeff Bezos’ relentless focus on what the customer wants. He has famously said, “There are two kinds of companies: those that work to try to charge more and those that work to charge less… We will be the second kind.”

Ownership

Leaders are owners. They think long-term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say, “that’s not my job.”

“Ownership” encourages employees to take ownership over their ideas and not just wait for direction from management. It also means taking responsibility if something goes wrong because it often takes individuals accepting accountability before things can change.

Invent and Simplify

Leaders expect and require innovation and invention from their teams and always find ways to simplify. They are externally aware, look for new ideas from everywhere, and are not limited by “not invented here.” As we do new things, we accept that we may be misunderstood for long periods of time.

This principle is closely tied to the idea of “ownership” and encouraging employees to think like owners would: always looking for areas where they can deliver more value.

Are Right, A Lot

Leaders are right a lot. They have strong judgment and good instincts. They seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs.

This leadership principle is about the importance of having a strong leadership team that can challenge one another. If you have a culture where everyone feels comfortable being open and honest, then it enables your leaders to be more effective at their jobs.

Learn and Be Curious

Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them.

The Learn and Be Curious leadership principle is about the importance of continuous learning. Amazon’s employees are encouraged to take on personal development projects that may shape their career path in a direction they hadn’t previously considered.

Hire and Develop the Best

Leaders raise the performance bar with every hire and promotion. They recognize exceptional talent and willingly move them throughout the organization. Leaders develop leaders and take seriously their role in coaching others. We work on behalf of our people to invent mechanisms for development like Career Choice.

At Amazon, the principle of “Hire and Develop the Best” is a core value. Amazon’s leaders are expected to focus relentlessly on hiring the very best talent. Amazon believes that every new hire should raise the performance bar.

They expect managers to elevate their team’s overall capability with each successive promotion by developing employees into exceptional performers. The company also provides a Career Choice program where it pre-pays 95% of tuition for all courses related to in-demand fields, whether those jobs are at Amazon or elsewhere.

Insist on the Highest Standards

Leaders have relentlessly high standards — many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and drive their teams to deliver high quality products, services, and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed.

“Insist on the Highest Standards” is one of the leadership principles referring to high expectations. High standards are a part of Amazon’s culture and permeate the company and its subsidiaries.

Think Big

Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers.

The “Think Big” leadership principle at Amazon is about thinking big in everything that you do. Amazon encourages its employees to take risks and explore possibilities for growing the company, expanding into new markets, or finding ways to improve customer experience with their products.

Bias for Action

Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk-taking.

“Bias for Action” is another leadership principle at Amazon which means making decisions quickly by relying on intuition and “gut instinct.” While this leads to mistakes being made, it also leads to greater speed in getting things done.

The philosophy of acting now instead of when every single factor has been defined perfectly fits within Bezos’ model of taking intelligent risks based upon what he thinks are the best chances of success rather than waiting until all possible information is available before moving forward.

Frugality

Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, and invention. There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size, or fixed expense.

“Frugality” is an Amazon Leadership principle that can be seen in many aspects of the business.

Frugality encourages innovation by allowing employees the freedom to take risks without worrying about overspending or breaking budgets. Allowing teams more autonomy leads them to feel trusted and empowered, which are key components to success.

Earn Trust

Leaders listen attentively, speak candidly, and treat others respectfully. They are vocally self-critical, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing. Leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume. They benchmark themselves and their teams against the best.

“Earn Trust” is an Amazon Leadership principle that encourages fostering a transparent and open culture. This helps create an environment where employees feel comfortable coming forward with ideas for improvement without fear of reprisal or judgment.

Amazon’s “Earn Trust” Leadership principle creates trust in the workplace by encouraging transparency through both communication styles and actions. Employees are encouraged to be honest about their roles on teams, while managers are expected to be equally forthcoming during performance reviews.

Dive Deep

Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, audit frequently, and are skeptical when metrics and anecdote differ. No task is beneath them.

“Dive Deep” is one of the leadership principles that Amazon follows. This principle keeps Amazon leaders focused on the customer and continues to improve its products’ quality, such as by ensuring that they achieve high ratings from customers.

Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit

Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.

Deliver Results

Leaders focus on the key inputs for their business and deliver them with the right quality and in a timely fashion. Despite setbacks, they rise to the occasion and never settle.

Amazon has recently added a fifteenth and sixteenth leadership principle. The sixteenth principle. These two principles are “Strive to be Earth’s Best Employer,” and Success and Scale Bring Broad Responsibility.

Strive to be Earth’s Best Employer

Leaders work every day to create a safer, more productive, higher-performing, more diverse, and more just work environment. They lead with empathy, have fun at work, and make it easy for others to have fun.

Leaders ask themselves: Are my fellow employees growing? Are they empowered? Are they ready for what’s next? Leaders have a vision for and commitment to their employees’ personal success, whether that be at Amazon or elsewhere.

Success and Scale Bring Broad Responsibility

We started in a garage, but we’re not there anymore. We are big, we impact the world, and we are far from perfect. We must be humble and thoughtful about even the secondary effects of our actions.

Our local communities, planet, and future generations need us to be better every day. We must begin each day with a determination to make better, do better, and be better for our customers, our employees, our partners, and the world at large.

And we must end every day knowing we can do even more tomorrow. Leaders create more than they consume and always leave things better than how they found them.

Understanding Amazon’s Leadership Principles

“We are customer obsessed, inventive, and creative problem solvers. We start with the customer and work backward to solve problems.” This is the idea from one of Amazon’s Leadership Principles that current CEO Jeff Bezos created in 1999.

While it may sound simple, understanding what this really means can be challenging for new employees or those who haven’t worked at Amazon before. For example, most companies do whatever they need to do internally without worrying about their customers’ needs first because it costs money to research these needs, so why bother?

Leaders ask themselves: Are my fellow employees growing? Are they empowered? Are they ready for what’s next? Leaders have a vision for and commitment to their employees’ personal success, whether that be at Amazon or elsewhere.

Success and Scale Bring Broad Responsibility

We started in a garage, but we’re not there anymore. We are big, we impact the world, and we are far from perfect. We must be humble and thoughtful about even the secondary effects of our actions.

Our local communities, planet, and future generations need us to be better every day. We must begin each day with a determination to make better, do better, and be better for our customers, our employees, our partners, and the world at large.

And we must end every day knowing we can do even more tomorrow. Leaders create more than they consume and always leave things better than how they found them.

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