“On the details, we at Amazon are always flexible, but on matters of vision we are stubborn and relentless.” 2020 Shareholder Letter, Jeff Bezos
Widely copied, the Amazon leadership principles are considered to be the driving force behind Amazon’s business success. Unlike many other companies, where mission, vision and values are documents to which no one in the company refers, the leadership principles are embedded in day to day life at Amazon, from interviewing to reviews to employees canvassing for additions to support the company culture.
Alongside Amazon’s mission statement, and Jeff Bezos’ foundational 1997 letter to shareholders, these form the foundation of Amazon’s focus, thinking, culture and success. Leadership principles are written and approved by Jeff Bezos and his S (senior) team. While Bezos has moved to Chairman rather than CEO of Amazon, the principles have so far remained untouched, since he added two on the way out the door. Ten leadership principles were introduced in 2002, and there are currently 16.
Check out Jeff Bezos’ Leadership Principles here
Interviewing at the company requires a strong understanding of the Amazon leadership principles since demonstrating a strong fit with them is the primary competency tested for during the interview process – regardless of the role. This article covers the principles, and the other covers interviewing at Amazon.
Check out the Amazon interviewing guide here
Get the Amazon leadership principles interview cheatsheet here
So what are the Amazon leadership principles? Where did they come from? What do they mean and how do they work? How have they been embedded as company values as opposed to a list of bullet points everyone goes through at induction and never looks at again?
“They are the building blocks of culture at Amazon; they set the standard for how we should work with each other as a group of employees and they maintain standards and consistency across our many functions and geographies. The Leadership Principles allow us to interact with each other or approach problems with the same mindset and expectations. They have been integral for scaling growth successfully.” Liz Jones, Bar Raiser at Amazon
What are leadership principles?
There are multiple different ways for companies to describe their goals, objectives and operating culture. Mission, vision and values is one popular framework, but other methods include company purpose, a brand promise statement or principles. Companies tend to pick and mix from these.
Amazon’s primary company statements are their vision statements and their principles.
Amazon’s primary vision statement is ‘to be Earth’s most customer-centric company’. Jeff Bezos has spoken extensively about how he believes that Amazon’s focus on customer obsession has been intrinsic in the company’s success. Customer obsession, Day 1 thinking and it’s all about the long term are the three top tenets of Bezos’ managerial philosophy. In placing customer obsession into the mission statement, Amazon’s north star is clear.
In 2021, Jeff Bezos added another vision statement, which is ‘Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work’.
The current Amazon Leadership Principles
The first seven of the Amazon Leadership Principles
There are currently 16 Amazon leadership principles.
[At Amazon] all the culture seems to be “golden nonsense” — like “customer obsession” — which company shouldn’t be obsessed by their customers?
But at the same time, it’s different. It’s different in the sense that those principles, unlike in most other companies, are not overlooked. Instead, they are practiced in every day’s work.” Tiexin Guo (ex AWS), Working like an Amazonian: Leadership Principles Explained — 1. Customer Obsession
Unlike most organisations, whose mission or values can be hard to find, or written down in a company handbook and swiftly forgotten, Amazon’s leadership principles are published on their website, and widely discussed across their investor communications, blogs and social channels, and employees report that they really do shape thinking at the company.
“A tremendous deal of thought has gone into the choice and articulation of these principles that form the core of the way EVERYTHING runs at Amazon. And I mean, EVERYTHING. …The principles are embodied in the natural way of thought and the common language spoken on a day-to-day basis by Amazonians regardless of function, domain, role, level, business model or target market.” A Arun Prasath, PE/Eng Director at Google; former PE @ Amazon, Director @Walmart, Quora
Things to understand about Amazon’s Leadership Principles
At Amazon, you can’t cherry pick which principles you chose to observe, and which you don’t. They are designed to work together as a suite, and for certain principles to balance other principles. For example, Bias for Action is balanced by Insisting on the Highest Standards and Dive Deep – you can’t quickly rush into bad decisions, but you should strive to make great decisions fast.
The behavioural articulation of the principles (the text which accompanies the headline statement) is precisely worded. It’s important to invest the time in fully understanding the principles before you interview at Amazon. Easy mistakes can be avoided, and there are multiple resources available which can help you prepare. Amazon, for example, refers to all employees as ‘leaders’ – because everyone at Amazon is expected to be a leader, as embodied in the Ownership principle.
In terms of mental models and frameworks for how to approach problems, the principles are intended to cover the full spectrum of possible options.
“The more I’ve worked with them [Amazon’s Leadership Principles] and had to measure them in others, I think it’s better to think about them as a framework for how to make decisions when there isn’t authority around. If we’re a thousand ships tied together, it’s a method for making good decisions personally or for your little ship. They’re a large part of why we can have so many ships moving at the same time moving in so many directions.” Interviewing at AWS: Advice and tips from 250 interviews, Nick Matthews
Check out the Amazon interviewing guide here
Get the Amazon leadership principles interview cheatsheet here
In the excerpts below we’ve highlighted the keywords to pay attention to in every principle.
“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.”
Customer obsession is Amazon’s north star, and as such is enshrined both in the mission and the leadership principles. Its position as first principle is purposeful.
Leaders: Due to Amazon’s de-centralized, modular operating model, whereby lots of small, autonomous teams add up to a cohesive whole, the word ‘leader’ is key: Amazon wants everyone in the business to act as a leader and owner; because they largely are. Amazonian employees are given single target goals, like ‘Increase profit margin by 30% in xx category’, and it’s up to them to figure out the what, the how, and galvanise their team behind them to do it.
Working Backwards: Internally to Amazon there is a process known as ‘working backwards’ from the customer. In practice this means that before any product is built or shipped, the team define which need is most important to the customer and how that product will serve it (in an exciting, big picture, innovative way) and write a mock press release (sometimes called a PR/FAQ) for the product. It must describe in great detail how this product will benefit the customer, and once greenlit for development serves as the north star for the team developing the product. Products which have been through this process include AWS, Alexa and Echo.
Customer trust: Working hard to earn and keep customer trust requires great attention to detail. Jeff Bezos has described customers as ‘beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied’. Maintaining focus on avoidable internal errors, such as operational or software mistakes is as important as the working backwards thinking that allows Amazon to innovate their customer service proposition faster and more effectively than competitors. In order to do that they should be anticipating new products or services, rather than responding to complaints. Complaints, outliers and bugs should be swiftly addressed. Operational sloppiness is not tolerated. Customer trust indices are routinely reviewed and consulted within the company and mentioned in investor communications.
Competitor attention: Outlines how employees should think about competitors versus customers. The principle warns against ‘Me Too’ product thinking, i.e. getting too focused on what products and services competitors are bringing out, over deep diving into customer needs. By watching competitors to see if their products or services better match customer needs, but remaining focused on the customer, Amazonians can balance competitor auditing with their north star of best in class customer service. Amazon believes that customers will only stay loyal to Amazon as long as they are the best option. Should they find gaps in service relative to competitors, Amazon works swiftly to close those gaps.
Obsess over customers: Amazon relies on a combination of quantitative customer data and anecdotal feedback which it expects Amazon employees to review proactively and routinely as part of their roles, and to raise issues with customer experience within the company. Additionally at least in the past it was mandatory for Amazon managers to spend time working in the customer service call centre on a regular basis in order to get closer to customer needs and problems – behaviour Jeff Bezos modelled himself.
Critically this does not mean relentlessly shipping things customers say they want, but continuously monitoring customer feedback to understand product or service gaps and then taking that information as the starting point for the innovation process. Sometimes that might mean going against what customers say in order to provide them with something better that they don’t know that they want yet.
Should you have identified a customer need some time ago which you are just about to fix and that need no longer exists – drop your project. If whatever you are doing does not move customer experience meaningfully forward and isn’t a simple, necessary hygiene factor driven by the competitor landscape, it’s not worth doing.
“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.””
Owners: The concept is that owners embody leadership: they communicate, they inspire, they think long term and they act as though they own the company.
Long term: When Jeff Bezos was a child, his parents rented a house, and discovered that the previous tenants had nailed their Christmas tree to the floor. It was an early example of how short term expediency can affect long term value. The Ownership principle is intended to instil that thinking at every level of the organisation; and to encourage employees to ask themselves: ‘Is this decision the one which makes the most sense and drives the most value in the long term, or does it only make sense on a short term basis and actually sacrifices long term value?’
Entire company: The principle encourages employees to avoid siloed thinking, whereby they make decisions which are right for them and their team – but wrong for the company overall. Describing impact in terms of your own team benefits is a red flag at Amazon, and employees are encouraged to reframe their thinking to describe the company benefit instead. An example might be ignoring features or tests in order to meet sprint goals. That’s short term thinking, since in the long term, as an owner, you’d want to build these things.
Not my job: Closely linked to this is the idea of responsibility: Amazon is a team sport, and hence you’re encouraged to feel a sense of responsibility to the company and to your customers. A sense of ownership sometimes means stepping up to do or deliver against something which is broken or needs to be done. Amazonians are encouraged to demonstrate full end to end responsibility: even when that means admitting that something has gone wrong, and fixing it.
“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.”
Jeff Bezos has stated multiple times that he would prefer the title ‘inventor’ to the title of ‘billionaire’. Amazon’s goal is to invent products, services and solutions that facilitate global leadership in customer service, and since customer expectations and technology as an industry is constantly evolving, what global leadership and what high standards of customer service means continues to evolve.
“Of all the Fortune 500 companies in 2000, now only 50% remain [in the Fortune 500]. If we look back 50 years instead of 20 years, the ratio is 17%. It’s hard for any company to sustain itself for a long period of time…Invent[ing] in desperate time[s] is already too late. That’s why invent and reinvent are key to any business.” Working like an Amazonian: Leadership Principles Explained — 3. Invent and Simplify, Tiexin Guo
Innovation and Invention: Should Amazon’s small autonomous teams and single threaded leaders not invent, parts of Amazon’s service would lag and be left behind in the market. They are given permission to be inspired from multiple sources, to invent for the long term, and pursue projects which might take multiple years to pay off, or which might be so innovative that they are perceived as bizarre in the current climate. Inventions can be small, new, elegant solutions, or they can be groundbreaking new products. The goal is to continuously improve upon the existing norms, and not be limited by the status quo.
Ways to simplify: As an organisation grows, complexity can lead to entropy which can kill speed, operational efficiency and ultimately innovation (‘this is too hard to do, we need to do something smaller’). It’s an encouragement to find simple, elegant solutions that break existing paradigms and allow the company to move faster. It’s also an encouragement not to overcomplicate customer solutions: and to deliver effectively and elegantly.
“Leaders are right a lot. They have strong judgment and good instincts. They seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs.”
Right a lot: Due to Amazon’s principles around customer obsession and invention, plus their status as one of the world’s largest technology companies, they frequently find themselves working in first mover spaces.
In order to succeed in that environment they look for and reward individuals who are good at working in grey areas, or environments where there is no model to follow.
Work to disconfirm their beliefs: The principle is about judgement: less about the initial idea or concept being correct, but more about the skills to refine, challenge, discard or hone ideas. Confirmation bias is actively discouraged. The job of the leader is to get to the right idea for customers, not necessarily to have the right idea themselves. They should be tenacious in pursuit of the right answer and continuously question the evolving hypothesis. This principle is especially tested for leadership positions at Amazon.
“Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them.”
Never done learning: Learning can mean new skills, acquiring new knowledge or learning from failure, but the belief is that everyone in the company, no matter their seniority level, should continue to evolve on a day to day basis. Technology is a fast moving industry, the internet is 40 years old, and what worked yesterday probably won’t work tomorrow. Everyone, including the CEO, is expected to keep developing their existing knowledge base.
Curious about new possibilities: Curiosity is tightly tied to Bezos’ belief in the power of ‘wandering’. Wandering for Bezos is allowing the brain to question, interrogate and roam – sometimes with no clear purpose – in the belief that ultimately this type of guided, business curiosity allows for the identification of innovative solutions and outside returns.
“From very early on in Amazon’s life, we knew we wanted to create a culture of builders – people who are curious, explorers. They like to invent. Even when they’re experts, they are “fresh” with a beginner’s mind. They see the way we do things as just the way we do things now. A builder’s mentality helps us approach big, hard-to-solve opportunities with a humble conviction that success can come through iteration: invent, launch, reinvent, relaunch, start over, rinse, repeat, again and again. They know the path to success is anything but straight.
Sometimes (often actually) in business, you do know where you’re going, and when you do, you can be efficient. Put in place a plan and execute. In contrast, wandering in business is not efficient … but it’s also not random. It’s guided – by hunch, gut, intuition, curiosity, and powered by a deep conviction that the prize for customers is big enough that it’s worth being a little messy and tangential to find our way there. Wandering is an essential counter-balance to efficiency. You need to employ both. The outsized discoveries – the “non-linear” ones – are highly likely to require wandering.” Jeff Bezos, 2018 Amazon Shareholder Letter
“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.”
Raise the performance bar (or average level) with every hire or promotion, thereby continuously increasing the effectiveness and performance of each team. This includes managers – Amazon consistently tries to replenish internal talent with new hires who are better than 50% of incumbent hires.
Exceptional talent: Identify top performers and (exhibiting Ownership) allow them to migrate to other parts of the organisation in order to improve performance there.
Take seriously their role in coaching others: Invest time in developing others as a leader and manager in order to benefit the organisation as a whole (again demonstrating the Ownership principle). There are two methods for this: feedback, and performance management – which can mean both career opportunities or being managed out of the organisation where there are signs of poor performance.
Invent mechanisms: In situations where on the job development is limited (such as manual workload in fulfilment centres) create development opportunities via other mechanisms, such as the Career Choice program, which seeks to train hourly employees in high demand skill sets.
“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.”
Relentlessly high standards: Jeff Bezos has said that ‘The keys to success are patience, persistence, and obsessive attention to detail.’ In order to embody those three qualities you have to have high standards; and execute relentlessly on them daily, across multiple different dimensions and over a significant time period. Similar to the development principle, this principle puts the onus on managers to raise the bar consistently on what good looks like and to model the behaviour themselves.
Continually raising the bar: Some operational forcing functions to ensure high standards have been introduced. Examples of processes within Amazon designed to create high standards include:
- Bar Raiser at interview stage – this is an appointed extra-curricular position within Amazon, whereby someone outside the hiring team is brought in as an interviewer. Their goal is to be an objective third party perspective on whether the candidate is suitable for Amazon.
- Code reviews are mandatory, to ensure error free software and a proper review of engineers’ work
- Inspections and audits are frequently conducted across multiple departments and functions
- Daily connections questions soliciting feedback from employees in order to create a ‘speak up’ culture
Problems are fixed so they stay fixed: The final line comes from lean manufacturing as a concept. The idea is that rather than fixing defects in products at the end of the manufacturing process (seems like the quicker fix, but it carries on occurring), that you go up the manufacturing line to discover where the issue originates from, and fix it at source. This means that when it is fixed, it stays fixed – even if it’s harder to do. That means in practice that should an Amazon employee find something broken, rather than walking away, because it’s not their responsibility that they have an obligation to go up the chain to fix it.
The second seven of the Amazon Leadership Principles
“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.”
Self-fulfilling prophecy & look around corners: This principle advocates for not accepting current roadblocks on the way to success. It says: don’t be hemmed in by the now; treat those constraints as an opportunity for a bold and innovative vision for how you could innovate. It’s a kind of mash up of various other principles: high standards, be curious, invent and simplify, take ownership, obsess over the customer – and really means go above and beyond and do the best thing you can.
An example of how Amazon has applied this goes to having started their own freight airline to move products: leading to a global air cargo network today. Seems extreme: but in the long term resulted in a scalable solution which solved the problem of how to move freight internationally.
“Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.”
Many decisions and actions are reversible: Jeff Bezos is a believer in high velocity decision making, which is a mental framework that states that there are two types of decisions: Type 1 decisions, and Type 2 decisions.
The difference between Type 1 and Type 2 decisions at Amazon
Type 2 decisions should be taken swiftly by small autonomous teams, who understand the difference between the two decision types, can weigh up the relative risk, and can move fast to execute. Speed is critical in the (relatively young, fast moving) technology industry and matters especially to Amazon. However this is where calculated risk taking comes in: speed should not be the only factor in decision making; instead the other principles should help to balance speed with quality.
“Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, and invention. There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size, or fixed expense.”
Constraints breed resourcefulness: Hang on – didn’t we just say leaders had to overcome constraints? That is exactly what this principle embodies – it’s about not taking the easy route (‘I need a person, I need this, or that’) but managing to break down walls even with your existing resources. A constraint is seen as an opportunity to invent; and a lean mindset is designed to keep ‘Day 1’ or start up thinking alive – imagine if you did not work at a FAANG company with infinite resources, but in a garage, as when Amazon started – what would you do then?
This principle works best when you think about it in conjunction with other leadership principles – such as Invent and Simplify or or Ownership. It doesn’t mean don’t spend any money, but it does mean don’t spend more money than is necessary. It doesn’t mean don’t ever ask for more resources, but it does say put the time into fully understanding the situation from every angle to understand if more resources is the only viable solution – as opposed to the easy or obvious solution. Questions like ‘what else could I use this money for?’ can be useful in this situation.
It’s key to include opportunity cost in your business case thinking: because sometimes something which looks cheap today ends up costing a lot in the long run because you miss out on other revenue streams or lose users. Another way to conceptualise this is the way that Amazon calculations true cost. Their definition of true cost is the purchase price of an asset minus the costs of operation, which bakes in the idea of doing the best, in the long term, for the business as an owner. It means – does XYZ thing make the business more valuable in the long term? Does that still hold true if we strip out the day to day operating costs of XYZ thing?
“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.”
Do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume: We know that Jeff Bezos was actively involved in crafting the language – that evocative phrase about body odour smelling of perfume is his. We have all encountered that person. There’s the person who can’t handle disagreement, and there’s the person who is scared to disagree. The Amazon leader can’t be any of those people. They have to seek the right answer, candidly, politely, but relentlessly.
Jeff Wilkes, former CEO of World Wide Consumer at Amazon states that ‘People will often confuse ‘Earn Trust’ with playing nicely with others’. The higher principle at Amazon is truth seeking over social cohesion. This is seen as a key tenet of the Earn Trust principle: by openly, respectfully but directly challenging others, a deeper level of trust can be earned. It’s tough to be challenged but if you are wrong, it’s better to be transparent, vocalise the learning and ‘keep the scar tissue’ to remind you not to make the same mistake again.
“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.”
Operate at all levels: The principle is intended to:
- Actively mitigate against a tendency for leaders to stop paying attention to detail as they rise between the ranks of the organisation
- Ensure leaders understand how they should monitor and understand the inner workings of their teams
- Ensure leaders understand and implement a deeply hands on, data driven, and non hierarchical approach to investigating topics at the deepest level
One of the reasons that managers sometimes devolve to ‘give me the summary’ behaviour is that with a larger span of control and many teams and topics beneath them, they simply cannot be across all of the details at all times. This principle seeks to demonstrate the way to avoid missing key details. Amazon is clear that they expect leaders to process more detail than other organisations might do, but equally clear that constantly diving deep is micro-management. The skill is to balance the two modes to be effective as a senior leader, but not miss details which might mean bigger problems.
Metrics and anecdote differ: Amazon has multiple internal processes designed to support a Dive Deep culture. These include key meetings such as weekly business reviews, where an end to end review of customer interaction with a given product or service is presented by the owners of the product to leaders within the company. All of this data is openly available at every level of the company.
The leadership skill embodied by Dive Deep is about the how of critiquing and analysing the information and data sets presented by sub teams. The metrics must be interrogated to see if they are the right input and output metrics. Where customer feedback differs from the data, the data has to be interrogated to understand if metrics are missing or the data is incorrect. In order to do that, since as a leader you are responsible for the output and quality of work of your subteams, the Amazon method is to ‘dive deep’ or for the leader to get really into the details to understand what is going on.
Anecdotal data can be one of the most effective ways to do this. In the Customer Obsession video linked to above, Dave Limp, SVP Amazon Devices and Services describes how he reads customer reviews daily on waking up. As anyone who has ever done this knows, by reading reviews (and not restricting yourself to the 5 star ones) you quickly uncover a wealth of information, from edge cases to big problems.
When analysing the anecdote, it’s important to ask two questions:
- Is the anecdote already captured in the data? If so, it’s a known issue, and you have the information to fix it (and move to Bias for Action mode)
- If not, then a deep dive has to occur, to understand the problem completely and from every angle
A deep dive audit should not only occur when something seems off in the WBR. Leaders should be routinely deep diving. Critically this should not be on the same repetitive cycle, as then it’s expected and can be managed by teams. By embodying day to day customer interactions, leaders can create processes to ensure they stay ahead of the curve on issues that might bubble up later in metrics.
“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.”
Respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree: Amazon encourages debate, rather than compromise. In an extreme example in the company, they share a story about two people debating the height of a ceiling to illustrate the point that compromises lead to sub-standard results. The story goes that two people are trying to estimate the height of a ceiling. One says: it’s 10 ft / 3m 5cm tall. The other one says it’s 14ft / 4m 27cm tall. They compromise and decide that the ceiling is 12 ft / 3m 66cm tall. But that’s not the height of the ceiling.
The purpose is to illustrate that if you want to get to the right answer, you have to debate rigorously, hear all perspectives, and continue to debate to get to the right answer, rather than the easiest answer. This has to be done respectfully, but leaders shouldn’t be shy away from having tough conversations in order to keep refining the debate. Refining the debate doesn’t mean just going round in circles where folks constantly restate their positions: it means guiding the conversation back to core principles to see where the debate goes, or where there’s true deadlock that requires a different mode of thinking.
Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly: ‘Disagree and commit’ is a phrase that Jeff Bezos is very fond of – and behaviour he tries to model himself. Once a decision is taken, this principle requires everyone to get on board and commit wholly. The phrase ‘disagree and commit’ forms a type of contract: even when you have doubts, even when you disagree – you must step up and support the decision, you cannot sabotage, and you can’t go back into debate loops about whether it’s the right thing to do. Failure of the team to all deliver the decision to the best of their ability results in a worse outcome for customers.
Check out the Amazon interviewing guide here
Get the Amazon leadership principles interview cheatsheet here
“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.”
Deliver them with the right quality and in a timely fashion: This principle is about reframing what results means. It does not mean deliver results at all costs (i.e. it has to be balanced with Customer Obsession, Frugality). You can’t deliver a bad experience for customers, or spend at all costs to deliver the results. Within your constraints you have to strive to deliver the best possible result. This sometimes means re-framing what the results are.
For example, rather than focusing on output metrics, such as sales, teams can focus on input metrics that they control that have a significant impact on the output metrics. An example of this might be that rather than focusing on Prime membership sales, teams could focus on the number of products per page which were eligible for Prime delivery. The theory was that this would lead to more Prime sales.
It’s clearly linked to the Ownership principle, with the reminder to ‘rise to the occasion and never settle’.
Introduction to the final 2 principles
The final two of the Amazon Leadership Principles
Jeff Bezos transitioned from CEO of Amazon to Chair of Amazon on July 5th, 2021, a date he chose because it was on July 5th that Amazon incorporated in 1994. Several days before he made the move, Amazon added two new leadership principles, and added a second vision statement, to be ‘Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work’. The last time the principles were updated prior to this was in 2015, when Learn and Be Curious was added.
The principles were added in the wake of employee petitions citing ‘an underlying culture of systemic discrimination, harassment, bullying and bias against women and under-represented groups’, damaging and repetitive stories about a negative Amazon work culture, reports of injuries in warehouses, backlash post Covid as essential workers found they had once again become expendable, leading to union drives and strike action at multiple fulfilment centres.
The principles were introduced in Bezos’ final shareholder letter. It stated that as Chair he would remain involved in embedding these principles at the company and ensuring they are a success; showing that despite his move to Chair that Amazon continues to operate in the mould of Bezos.
“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.”
Safer, more productive, higher performing, more diverse, and more just work environment: Bezos was directly looking to counter behaviours and outcomes for which the company had received criticism. In terms of concrete initiatives specifically designed to improve working conditions for hourly employees, Bezos committed on the following in his 2020 shareholder letter:
- Programs to mitigate for and manage employee risk of musculoskeletal disorders (e.g. sprains or injuries caused by repetitive motions) such as the WorkingWell program
- Investment into people and materials to ensure greater safety at work
- Higher minimum wages than market
In addition other initiatives include
- Voice of the Associate boards in fulfilment centres, where associates can suggest improvements
- Community building initiatives such as Thanksgiving dinners and fundraisers
- Inclusive hiring goals across all job levels including senior leadership, including publishing diversity data
- Inclusive working environment initiatives across all teams
- The Career Choice initiative
Since this is now a company principle, employees can expect to be required to model these behaviours and be challenged and monitored should they not do so. Key also to this initiative is the recognition that success has not yet been achieved – it is an ambition which reflects on the work to be done.
“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.”
“We started in a garage, but we’re not there anymore. We are big, we impact the world, and we are far from perfect: This principle is part of Amazon’s company commitment to be a net positive contributor to local, national and global communities. Key parts include:
- The Climate Pledge, Amazon’s commitment to reach net zero by 2040
- Help for Hunger initiative, where Amazon donates delivery services to food banks and not for profits to help deliver meals
It’s an ongoing commitment to climate and some social justice principles – which allows the company’s employees to suggest initiatives and improvements.
Key lessons from the Amazon Leadership principles
“You have to pay a price for your distinctiveness, and it’s worth it. The fairy tale version of “be yourself ” is that all the pain stops as soon as you allow your distinctiveness to shine. That version is misleading. Being yourself is worth it, but don’t expect it to be easy or free. You’ll have to put energy into it continuously.
The world will always try to make Amazon more typical – to bring us into equilibrium with our environment. It will take continuous effort, but we can and must be better than that.” 2020 Shareholder letter, Jeff Bezos
There is no denying that Amazon’s leadership principles are highly effective. Numerous stories have been shared, both positively and negatively, about how embedded they are at Amazon. Given Amazon’s decentralised, modular org chart, they’re credited with the company’s continued success at scale. Leaving aside the culture this creates (as ultimately every individual employee and interviewee must determine what sort of working culture is right for them) there can be no doubt that as an operating model it’s highly effective.
Key lessons for managers and founders to apply:
- Pick your values, invest and be consistent, put a great deal of effort into articulating them well, and stick to them for many years. Consistency is key.
- Write as a leadership team: don’t outsource to HR or employees. The founder of Amazon wrote these principles to align to his management beliefs, investor proposition and vision, continues to advocate and lead them from the top, and it shows in terms of the alignment of the principles with vision and operating model.
- Embed them day to day, from hiring to firing: and walk the talk daily. There’s no point doing the exercise if you then shelve them.
- Adjust as needed: Amazon has iterated the principles as they have evolved as a company, but have always kept the core, even as they have refined the language.
- Principles have to be a complimentary, reinforcing suite: the more time you spend to understand the principles, the more you come to realise that they are iterating and constructing a set of digital first, entrepreneurial, customer focused values. The principles all point in the same direction; despite the volume they are not misaligned or contradictory. Rather they should be seen as re-statements, and more granular articulations of the same values.
Hustle Badger Resources on Amazon
How many leadership principles does Amazon have?
Amazon currently has 16 leadership principles. Check out the full list here. These are the guiding principles around which Amazon operates as a business and organisational culture. Amazon’s leadership principles have evolved over time, with the last two being added in 2015 when Jeff Bezos transitioned from CEO of Amazon to Chair of Amazon.
What are the 14 leadership principles of Amazon?
Amazon currently has 16 leadership principles, having added several to their famous ‘14 principle’ roster. Amazon’s leadership principles are detailed behavioural value statements intended to guide how employees approach their work and the sorts of day to day actions they take in the workplace. They famously include ‘Customer Obsession’, ‘Insist on the Highest Standards’ and ‘Think Big’. For a full list, see here.