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Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Amazon's 14 leadership principles

Bezos drives Amazon’s inventive culture through fourteen leadership principles, adhered to by most Amazonians more closely than their own religions, which can sometimes make Amazon feel like a cult. These principles guide decision making within the company, they’re hammered home during its interview process, and they come up casually in conversation between Amazonians when they’re off the clock.

When you work at Amazon, the leadership principles become part of your being. They make it difficult to work at any other company, which is why so many ex-Amazonians “boomerang,” or come back after they’ve left. One ex-employee told me he’s teaching these principles to his kids.

The more you study Bezos’s leadership principles, the more it becomes clear that they’re a manual for invention. Taken together, they inspire new ideas, strip out the corporate muck that so often holds the best ideas back, and ensure anything with a chance to succeed gets out the door.

Think Big, for instance, encourages Amazonians to dream up the company’s next great product, process, or service. And critically, it gives them permission to do it too, a departure from stay-in-your-lane management. “Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy,” the leadership principle says. “Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers.”

Invent and Simplify, another example, makes invention core to people’s jobs at Amazon, not peripheral. “Leaders expect and require innovation and invention,” it instructs. “They are externally aware, look for new ideas from everywhere, and are not limited by ‘not invented here.’” (A more honest reading of this principle would be: Your entire purpose at Amazon is to invent. If you’re not inventing, your job will get simplified and then automated. At Amazon, you invent or hit the road.)

Bias for Action tells Amazonians to get the damn thing out the door, discouraging long, drawn-out development processes in favor of producing new things. “Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study,” it says. “We value calculated risk taking.” (One Amazonian, looking for extra room in his work space, brought a saw into work and took off a chunk of his desk. When management spoke with him, he cited Bias for Action.)

Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit discourages bottlenecks by telling Amazonians to state their objection and then get out of the way. “Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting,” it says. “Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.” (Bezos hated the idea of putting customer questions and answers on product pages, one ex-employee recalled, but he told the team to go ahead. Now these questions and answers are an Amazon staple.)

Finally, Customer Obsession puts customers before everything. “Leaders start with the customer and work backwards,” it says. “Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.” (Amazon’s customer obsession has factored into the company’s pursuit of sweetheart economic deals, its anticompetitive behavior, and its mistreatment of its employees. These activities help reduce prices and improve service, both of which often come with an unseen cost.)

If an invention isn’t good enough for Amazon’s customers, it gets sent back to the drawing board. “The magic of the Go store comes from the fact that once you’re in, you can just walk out,” one person who worked on Go told me. “[The vending machine idea] didn’t eliminate the problem of checkout; it simply kicked the problem down the line.” And so it was rejected. Bezos is onto something.

Inventing in today’s technology-driven economy is a must, not simply nice to have. In a world driven by code, where the cost to create is lower than ever, competitors can copy what you’re already doing with relative ease. To survive, you need to be creating the next big thing constantly.

And so Bezos has enlisted everyone at Amazon in this pursuit. “There’s invention in finance, and legal, and human resources, and fulfillment, and customer service, and every aspect of the company,” Wilke said. “It becomes part of the way everybody in the company works.”

Inside Amazon, Bezos has developed a culture that empowers employees to invent and lets them run the thing they’ve created (another leadership principle: Ownership). The deeper you dig in, the more apparent it becomes that this culture, bolstered by Wall Street investors who don’t demand Amazon turn a profit, is what’s behind the company’s array of beloved products and services: Echo, Kindle, Prime, Amazon Web Services, and It is, in no uncertain terms, Amazon’s competitive advantage.
Source: Always Day One: How the Tech Titans Plan to Stay on Top Forever by Alex Kantrowitz

Leadership Principles as officially listed and described by Amazon:
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 anecdote 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.

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