Amazon's Leadership Principles
Amazon’s leadership principles are a set of fifteen leadership principles that guide the actions and decisions of their leaders. They are key to both the way the company operates... and interviews!
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
- 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
- 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 14 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.
Leaders start with the customer and work backward. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers. And that is customer obsession as practiced at Amazon.
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.”
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 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. Ownership is one of the harder leadership principles to follow but one that Amazon values a lot!
Invent and Simplify
Leaders expect and require innovation and invention from their teams and always find ways to simplify. This is Invent and 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.
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; Hire and Develop the Best.
They expect managers to elevate their team’s overall capability with each successive promotion by developing employees into exceptional performers.
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 driving 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. To add, insisting on the highest standards should be something you should practice in real life anyways so hopefully this should not be a far stretch from Amazon is looking for!
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. Think Big may be easier said than practiced once you get into the gritty details of the job, but yet is expected to be top of mind at all times at Amazon.
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, or Bias for Action, 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.
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 and one it prides itself with.
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. It’s the very principle of Frugality that has allowed Amazon to perform so well even at times of economic hardships in the industry.
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 they’re above criticism.
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. In a way it’s humility. Employees are encouraged to be honest about their roles on teams, while managers are expected to be equally forthcoming during performance reviews. Both pieces foster a culture of earning trust. It goes both ways.
Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, audit frequently, and are skeptical when metrics and anecdotes 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. Jeff Bezos was famously known for sending emails to team leads in the form of a ‘?’ when he noticed something was off. For a Fortune 500 CEO that’s the epitome of Dive Deep.
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. However, once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.
This is Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit. It’s essentially the marital ‘speak now, or forever hold your peace’! Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit ensures that there is room for devil’s advocates but then that there is social cohesion post the point of brainstorming for the sake of improving productivity.
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 to Deliver Results. Delivering results can range from hitting a target to shipping a product in time, to reducing customer complaints to x%.
Amazon has recently added a fifteenth and sixteenth leadership 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. Strive to be Earth’s Best Employer is actually a leadership principle that came out more recently due to the negative PR around Amazon’s warehouses.
Success and Scale Bring Broad Responsibility
Success and Sacle Bring Broad Responsibility is essentially Amazon’s version of ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. They started in a garage, but are now big, impact the world, and are far from perfect. This leadership principle emphasizes Amazon’s need to be humble and thoughtful about even the secondary effects of their actions.
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?
This is where Amazon differs with its many, yet focused leadership principles. Continue to read up on them, if needed, and think of personal examples of yours that exemplify each one. The role you are applying for will likely dictate which leadership principles you may get asked about. For example, a software engineer may get Deliver Results and Insist on Highest Standard, while a customer service manager may get Ownership and Customer Obsession.
In our mock interviews we take your role into account and ask you vetted questions that fit the most fitting leadership principles so you won’t be caught offguard!Amazon’s leadership principle #13 is Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit [link].
Amazon has a very important leadership principle that many companies could learn from. Disagree and Commit. At first, you may think, how is this going to help the company? Well it will make you reexamine current processes as well as give you an insight into issues that aren’t necessarily evident
What is Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit?
Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit is all about how to disagree with your boss when you don’t agree with them. And this is a hard one for many people. But Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, and CEO provides a great example of how to do it. In his 2015 letter to shareholders, he wrote: “I’m constantly surprised by the number of decisions made in large companies (and small ones) without meaningful input from engineering or product management. Companies that make these decisions risk building products that are irrelevant to customers because engineering and product management are disconnected from the people using (or perhaps even purchasing) their products.”
Why are you disagreeing?
The first time I heard this, I was shocked. At Amazon, saying “no” without an explanation was like shooting a wounded puppy.
In other words, when you disagree with someone, make sure you know why, and then tell them why. When you do so, be respectful and connect with them on a human level — but also be firm in your conviction. Sometimes, the best way to convince someone is to simply give them options they haven’t considered before, or provide a new perspective on something they already believe.
Be sure of your facts
When someone disagrees with you, ask them for specific examples or data to support their position instead of just arguing with them.
If they can’t provide relevant facts, request that they keep an open mind until you can gather more facts or data to prove your point.
State that you respect their opinion but that until you gather further information, you should agree to disagree. (Remember, there are times when arguing is appropriate.)
The truth is, many people have strong opinions, but when asked for specifics supporting those opinions, they simply cannot respond based on facts or data. This is how to best make a case for your stance.
Then, commit to following through on your decision
Agreeing upon a solution opens the door to a productive discussion of what needs to be done to achieve the outcome and how each team member is going to contribute towards the achievement of the goal.
As you can see, being honest and vulnerable is one of the most important things in a working environment. If you hide your opinions, you’re missing an opportunity to improve your company and yourself. Being able to take criticism, give criticism, and improve on both is an important part of Disagree and Commit. But again, this principle needs to be approached carefully if it’s going to work.
Disagree and Commit Interview Questions:
- Describe a situation where other members of your team didn’t agree with your ideas. What did you do?
- Tell me about a situation where you had a conflict with someone on your team. What was it about? What did you do? How did they react? What was the outcome?
- Tell me about a time when you did not accept the status quo.
- Tell me about an unpopular decision of yours.
- Tell me about a time when you had to step up and disagree with a team member’s approach.
- If your direct manager was instructing you to do something you disagreed with, how would you handle it?
- Describe a situation where you thought you were right, but your peers or supervisor did not agree with you. How did you convince them that you were right? How did you react? What was the outcome?
- In your career did you disagree with your manager or colleague anytime about any issue?
- How do you express your disagreement about some aspects of your project?
- Were you frustrated when you had to follow a decision that you thought was wrong?
Have backbone; disagree and commit is one of the harder-to-understand and actually apply leadership principles. It may be challenging to put this to practice on your job but also something that will truly set you apart from others, if done correctly. Think of ideas where you needed to have backbone; disagree and commit and be able to talk about it in the interview!