Amazon adds two new leadership principles just days before Jeff Bezos steps down as CEO

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. (GeekWire File Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Amazon is adding two new leadership principles that reflect how the company is evolving as the tech behemoth faces increasing scrutiny from regulators and a growing negative public perception.

The additions are a big deal given how the existing 14 leadership principles guide Amazon’s day-to-day operations. It’s the first time Amazon has added to the list since 2015 when the company included a 14th principle, “Learn and Be Curious.”

The new principles are being added just days before Jeff Bezos steps down as CEO and passes the reins to Amazon Web Services chief Andy Jassy on Monday.

Here are the two new principles:

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.

Both new principles are in line with the themes sounded by Bezos in his final shareholder letter as Amazon CEO, which focused on the company’s treatment of employees. The leadership principles start off with a call to obsess about the customer, but now the tech giant needs to turn its focus to the company’s 1.3 million employees, Bezos wrote in the letter.

“Despite what we’ve accomplished, it’s clear to me that we need a better vision for our employees’ success,” Bezos wrote. “We have always wanted to be Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company. We won’t change that. It’s what got us here. But I am committing us to an addition. We are going to be Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work.”

Employees have called on Amazon over the years to add new principles that focus more on how the company treats its workforce.

Amazon’s treatment of employees has been under the microscope in recent months. There was a closely-watched unionization movement at its warehouse in Bessemer, Ala. Employees voted against union representation in April by a large margin, ending what was the most serious effort to unionize a segment of the workforce in the 27-year-old company.

Earlier this month Amazon’s employment practices came under the microscope as two detailed reports from the New York Times and Recode revealed how the company is struggling to manage its massive workforce amid allegations of racial inequity and poor treatment of warehouse workers.

The New York Times investigation showed that the company’s method of managing its people was strained as the retail giant “burned through” workers at a New York City fulfillment center during the pandemic amid firings, stalled benefits and failed communication.

Recode’s report cited dozens of Amazon’s Black employees who recounted racial bias and discrimination against them.

Meanwhile, Amazon, along with other tech companies such as Facebook and Google, is facing new federal antitrust legislation that could change the way its sprawling business operates.

The increased scrutiny comes as the company’s revenue has surged to record levels amid the pandemic. Amazon blew past expectations for its first fiscal quarter earnings, posting revenue of $108.5 billion, up 44% year-over-year, and earnings per share of $15.79, up from $5.01. Profits of $8.1 billion and an operating margin of 8.2% set new records.

Amazon’s stock is up nearly 10% this year, and has almost doubled since the pandemic began in 2020, trading Thursday at around $3,440/share. The company’s market capitalization is now $1.73 trillion.

Bezos will step down as CEO on Monday, replaced by Jassy. But he’ll remain executive chairman and will stay engaged.

“In my upcoming role as Executive Chair, I’m going to focus on new initiatives,” Bezos wrote in the shareholders letter. “I’m an inventor. It’s what I enjoy the most and what I do best. It’s where I create the most value. I’m excited to work alongside the large team of passionate people we have in Ops and help invent in this arena of Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work.”

Here is Amazon’s updated list of 16 leadership principles:

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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Amazon Jeff bezos Leadership principles