Breaking Down Amazon's Leadership Principles - Part 2

with an ex-Amazon Bar Raiser

September 19, 2022
Table of Contents

Welcome to Part 2 of our Amazon Leadership Principle breakdown. Today we are going to continue unpacking each Leadership Principle, as well as the two new principles that Amazon added last year.

In our previous conversation with Eric Hudson, we discussed practical, real-world examples of how to use the first 8 Leadership Principles in your Amazon interview.

Both of these posts will help you when preparing for an interview at Amazon. In case you missed it, you can find the link to Part 1 here

Leadership Principle #9: Bias for Action

Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk-taking.

Eric says, “This is a really important one when it comes to Amazon. So Amazon prioritizes itself on being fast. I can't imagine a world where people are going to say, ‘I wish it would take longer for them to deliver my package.’”

Amazon prides itself on being ahead of the curve. Ten years from now, customers will still want low prices and fast delivery. There's a real connection here with LP #7: Insisting on the Highest Standards. 

Amazon has a bias for action - they want to get their products out to customers as quickly as possible. Eric says, "The highest standards are based on quality. Whereas, bias for action is about speed." 

Here are some common questions you'll hear on this LP:

  1. Tell me about a time when you had to deliver something very quickly under a tight deadline.
  2. Tell me about a time you took a calculated risk in your job. What was the calculated risk and how did you turn that risk into a success?

Takeaway: Amazon’s culture is all about keeping the ball moving and getting that stock into the hands of customers. Can you prioritize speed after calculating a potential risk? If so, how would you do that without compromising the outcome? If you don’t have examples of where this could be applied in your professional life, you can give personal examples. Eric says “Some of the best examples I've heard have come from people who have done things on the side. I had someone who created an app for people to do private shuttles for kids so they didn't have to have their kids get bullied on school buses. Try to think outside the box.” 

Leadership Principle #10: 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.

Amazon is notoriously frugal with employee benefits. Fancy laptops and company cell phones are not considered essential perks. Frugality extends to flights too, don’t expect to be flying first class unless you’re injured. A celebratory meal with your team leader is one of the few expenses Amazon employees enjoy from time to time.

According to Eric, “I would say there is a 99% chance you're not going to get this on your interview. It is the one leadership principle that's always been looked over in the interview process. The only person who's going to be interviewed on Frugality is finance, right? So, if you're a financial analyst or financial manager, senior finance manager, accountant, or internal auditor, those are usually the only people that get Frugality in their interview. If you're anything else, product manager, program manager, software development, engineering, sales, HR, there is a very high chance you're not going to get Frugality.”

In the interview, you should focus on:

  1. The first place to start is with cost savings. Have you been able to reduce costs while using limited resources? 
  2. Have you ever operated a lean team? If so, were you able to complete the tasks assigned to you with a smaller team?
  3. With an emphasis on investment, have you managed to achieve a successful outcome without spending the entire budget for the project?

Takeaway: It is unlikely that you will be asked about Frugality in your interview. If you are, focus on investment, cost reduction and doing more with less.

Leadership Principle #11: 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.

Getting this LP wrong could cost you the role you are applying for. Amazon values trust a lot. They won't settle for anything less with this LP. The set of questions and scenarios you will be asked will cover a wide range of topics. 

Here are some examples of the questions:

  1. Tell me about a time when you had to communicate a change in direction that people had concerns about.
  2. Tell me about a time you received a critical piece of feedback from your Manager, how did you handle it?
  3. Tell me about a time you made a commitment to a stakeholder, but you couldn’t fulfill your commitment as promised.

Eric emphasises, “if you do not do well on this LP, you won't get the job, period. If you can't earn someone's trust, you can't earn a customer's trust. You don't have Customer Obsession. So this LP is extremely important, not just in the interview. If they think that you're like lying about stuff in the interview, they'll mark you red for Earned Trust.”

Key Takeaway: Each successful hire at Amazon is based on trust and integrity. As an Amazonian, you will need to approach this LP with authenticity and confidence. Every employee will face adversity at some point in their career. What matters is how you build trust in ambiguous and difficult situations, and how that is communicated.

Leadership Principle #12: 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.

The Dive Deep LP will be used to screen you in two main ways. The first half of your interview will be fairly standard but right after that, you will have the tech screen. So if you are a technical data analyst, business analyst, or in any role where data-driven insights will create a lot of business value, this LP is going to come up.

The essence of this LP is that you're diving under the surface to find a problem that needs to be solved. You can think of Dive Deep as a root cause analysis where you completed a full investigation into a problem at hand and brought it to the attention of key stakeholders with a unique solution.

Eric says, “If you're familiar with Michael Barry, he's a hedge fund owner who basically shorted the market in 2009 for the mortgage-backed securities crisis, right? So he found that information, that data below the surface, and everything seemed fine. On the surface, things seemed to be going well. He dove deep and found data that was very concerning. That there were mortgages that were underwater and the people who were holding them all had terrible credit scores and weren't paying their mortgages.”

Eric goes on to point out, "You’re running with that solution, implementing it and your contributions leading to some big major impact that helps the company out." 

Concluding the principle, he says, "So for Michael Barry, he was able to help his hedge firm make a lot of money because he was able to act on that data and he came up with a solution that he thought was appropriate, right?"

Takeaway: If you're a technical person, you'll most likely be asked about Dive Deep. This is simply your ability to dig into the details and find important information that isn’t necessarily obvious. It’s a great Leadership Principle to prepare for, especially if you’re analytically minded. 

In closing, Dive Deep is an incredibly important LP that ties back to many other Leadership Principles. You can expect to be asked up to 9 questions on this topic so have at least two examples ready. Be prepared to support each of your answers with data if possible. 

The panel will be a lot of questions about this LP. Don’t be intimidated and “stay in the pocket” as Eric likes to say. Take your time with responses and ask your own questions if you need clarification. If you get flustered, talk slowly, that will give you enough time to consider each of your responses. 

Leadership Principle #13: 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.

When people hear the words backbone, disagree or commit they usually think of conflict or confrontation. This LP is the opposite, this LP is there to prevent downstream mistakes that could have been avoided.

There are two main parts to this principle. The first is backbone, eg, ensuring that social cohesion does not get in the way of Customer Obsession and innovation. 

Eric shares an example: “So let's say you and I are a meeting and I say Misha, I would like to put this ten-foot pole on Amazon.com. And you could sit there and say, okay, sure, I agree with you. Or you could say be skeptical and say, well, let's look at the data and make sure this is right. And then you measure the pole and you realize it's actually 8ft, right? So now you have data that contradicts what I just said, and you're trying to influence me to do what's right, because if you don't push back, what am I going to do? I'm going to put a ten-foot pole on Amazon.com. Someone's going to order that ten-foot pole and they're going to be upset that it's not the correct size. Right?”

When the data supports pushback, Amazon generally encourages productive disagreements. Even younger or less experienced employees can ask engaging questions to the senior team despite the company's top-down culture. A common example of this principle is, “tell me about a time you had a disagreement with your manager about something that was business critical. How did you disagree and where did that lead?”

The other half of this leadership principle is Disagree and Commit. The second thing Eric says is that there might not be enough data to support a different opinion. When that happens, how do you handle it? Eg, “tell me about a time when you disagreed with a decision but you went ahead with the group’s decision anyway”. With this aspect of the LP, you can have a productive disagreement but still move forward.

Takeaway: Nobody likes unnecessary friction, but there are times when productive disagreements provide a unique opportunity to improve process and prevent mistakes. That's what makes Amazon stand out. Everyone has a role to play in improving the business' processes.

Leadership Principle #13: 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.

Eric considers this principle to be extremely simple. Essentially, consider a time when you successfully over-delivered in your role. Any successful career milestone would likely be a good response for this LP.

Eric says, “When have you delivered, what have you done, and what success have you achieved?”

Takeaway: Don’t overthink this one. Any questions about this LP can be answered with your career highlights or biggest accomplishment.

Leadership Principle #14: 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.

Strive to be Earth's Best Employer is used to draw attention to ethical initiatives and concerns. It could be an issue you felt needed more awareness or a scenario that demanded more accountability. In essence, it is standing up for what you believe in and, specifically, the results of that change effort.

Eric says, “Tell me about a time when you had to stand up for someone who couldn’t defend themselves in the workplace, or tell me about a time when you actually took diversity seriously when building your team.”

Takeaway: Briefly describe situations where you were vocal regarding the rights of those around you. Taking a stand for what is right and making an effort to include others doesn't necessarily mean your outcome was successful. This LP is designed to assess your passion for social impact and your willingness to stand up for what is right.

Leadership Principle #15: 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.

There is a strong alignment between this LP and purpose-driven leadership. Amazon is a company that cares about more than just its bottom line. Eric gives some examples below.

  1. Do you consider the broader impact of your business decisions? Is the world better off because of those decisions? 
  2. Tell me about a time when you made a choice that helped customers succeed at a high level.
  3. Have you ever created a company program or policy that was beneficial to the community at large? What was the impact of this program/initiative?

Eric says, “for example, DocuSign, a company I work with currently, will plant a tree for every candidate that signs a DocuSign letter. Right. So that's bringing broad responsibility to the world.”

Takeaway: Amazon prides itself on sustainability and making the world a better place. Focus on discussing change efforts where you created impact in more than just one way. It could be anything you did to make a positive impact on your team, community or environment. Don’t be concerned if it didn’t work out, the point is that you took your stand and defended your values.

Final Thoughts from Eric:

“It's very important to have examples that raise the bar for all those respective leadership principles. But where a lot of people mess up is they get so focused on having an example for each leadership principle. 

I highly recommend you book a coaching call with a Carrus coach, what they can do is they can actually tell you what the questions are going to be in your interview. This can help you focus on questions versus leadership principles because that's going to set you up for success.”

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