Amazon's success and the 14 principles it works on

The 14 Principles That Drive Amazon’s Success

by May 28, 2019Business, Compensation, Leadership, Management

Many people talk about leadership principles or values these days. But what often happens is that they get printed on a poster, hung on a wall – and then quickly forgotten. No one actually lives those values, or frankly, can even remember them.

Amazon is different. They truly live their principles on a daily basis. It’s hard to deny the impact that the company has on the world around us. There’s even a phrase, “the Amazon Effect,” that’s used to describe what happens when they decide to enter a new industry. They may have started with books, but they’ve since dominated food and data services. The company is now entering the realms of government and media, where they’re creating their own content. The success of the company has been amazing, and I think it boils down to their 14 leadership principles, which I’ve listed at the bottom of this post. As they state on their hiring site: “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.”

This is truly an excellent list of values. And I’d encourage you to read through them and evaluate yourself as a leader against them. How do you stack up? I doubt there are many of us who will get multiple A-pluses. But it can be a useful exercise as a leader to see where you might be able to improve.

What’s interesting is that Amazon’s employees not only live these principles on a daily basis, they use them when making their hiring decisions.

One of their principles, for instance, is to “Think Big.” The surely embrace that, right? It seems that whatever they are doing, they’re always swinging for the fences and attacking a multi-billion-dollar market.

On the other hand, they also believe in “Frugality,” which means that while they tackle big things, they’re also checking the economics of the move as well.

Amazon also evaluates its leaders, and makes decisions for promotions, based on how well their employees live out these principles. If you work at Amazon, and you want to earn a promotion and advance your career, you need to show how you are living these values.

Of course, not everyone fits into this framework. You might recall the stories about how hard it is to work at the company made headlines a few years ago. But the real point is that it was the people who didn’t buy into the values who left, which is what you want as a leader anyway. If you don’t buy into what makes the company tick, it probably isn’t a good fit for you anyway.

So take the time to review your own set of values and principles and see how they compare to Amazon’s. If your fall short, maybe it’s time to reassess- especially if you’re trying to drive your company to a different level of success.

So here they are:

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.