“You can write down your corporate culture, but when you do so, you’re discovering it, uncovering it—not creating it.” – Jeff Bezos
One of the hallmarks of a great organization is that they have a strong sense of mission and well-defined culture. The 14 Amazon’s Leadership Principles are the guiding principles for executing Amazon’s core vision of becoming the world’s most customer-centric organization. If you want to know what makes Amazon thick or are interviewing for a job at Amazon, the leadership principles is the Amazonian way of getting things done and executing on the overarching vision of the organization.
In their book, Working Backwards: Insights, Stories, and Secrets from Inside Amazon, former Amazonians Colin Bryar and Bill Carr writes glowing about the 14 Amazon’s Leadership Principles.
What distinguishes Amazon is that its Leadership Principles are deeply ingrained in every significant process and function at the company. In many cases, the principles dictate a way of thinking or doing work that is different from the way that most companies operate. As a result, newly hired Amazonians go through a challenging multimonth period of learning and adapting to these new methods. Because these processes and practices are embedded in every meeting, document, decision, interview, and performance discussion, following them becomes second nature over time. And any employee who violates them draws attention to themselves like a person loudly scratching their fingernails across a chalkboard.
Amazon now has 14 Leadership Principles—notably more than most companies have. They are displayed right on the Amazon website along with this explanation:
“We use our Leadership Principles every day, whether we’re discussing ideas for new projects or deciding on the best approach to solving a problem. It is just one of the things that makes Amazon peculiar.”
If you expose the workings of any major Amazon process, you’ll see these principles playing a prominent role; employee performance evaluations highlight this perfectly. Much of the peer and manager feedback used in these evaluations focuses on how a person exhibited, or fell short of exhibiting, the Amazon Leadership Principles during the review period. Similarly, every candidate who interviews for a job at Amazon is evaluated in light of the Leadership Principles. Interviewers spend the better part of an hour vetting the candidate according to selected principles, and each candidate typically goes through five to seven interviews.
The nature of the Amazon Leadership Principles is borne out in processes and practices throughout the company. For example, the six-page narratives that the company uses in place of PowerPoint decks to present quarterly and yearly business updates require both the writer and reader to Dive Deep and Insist on the Highest Standards.
The Press Release/Frequently Asked Questions process—aka PR/FAQ—reinforces customer obsession, starting with customer needs and working backwards from there.
The Door Desk Award goes to a person who exemplifies Frugality and Invention. The Just Do It Award is an abnormally large, well-worn Nike sneaker given to employees who exhibit a Bias for Action. It usually goes to a person who has come up with a clever idea outside the scope of their job.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Bias for Action.
Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk-taking.
Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, and invention. There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size, or fixed expense.
- 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.
- Dive Deep.
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.
- 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.
In the 2015 shareholder letter, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos noted:
“You can write down your corporate culture, but when you do so, you’re discovering it, uncovering it—not creating it.”
All the Best in your quest to get Better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.