10 Leadership Lessons From Amazon's Massive Success
Since Amazon was started in 1994 it has grown into a behemoth, netting $178 billion in revenue in 2017. It's expanded into countless industries after beginning strictly selling books. It's continuing to expand with acquisitions, most recently acquiring Ring.
Through this growth, Amazon has also failed a lot. It's made poor acquisitions, lost key employees and taken on failed projects. Ultimately, though, it's continued to move forward. Due to the nature of the Amazon story, its success and its length of existence, much can be learned from the company. Jeff Bezos has been a revolutionary at the helm, and his leadership has spread throughout the entire organization.
Here are 10 leadership lessons that you can learn and apply from Amazon's massive success:
1. Give employees autonomy.
Amazon thrives on giving its workers autonomy. It enables employees to feel total control over their projects. This is a characteristic that has attracted many great leaders to Amazon; it's had entire departments and divisions built by one person or a small group of people.
Although that puts a lot of faith in those individuals' hands -- and Amazon expects a lot -- it also allows people to do their best work. They are not constrained and can take chances and run with ideas in a way that allows for maximum success.
2. Give employees a meaningful vision.
Brad Stone recently wrote a book about Amazon called The Everything Store, which fits perfectly: Amazon wants to be the store for everything. It wants people around the world to be able to shop and find everything they'd possibly want in one place. Plus, Amazon wants all those items to be found at the minimum cost.
This is the vision that Amazon carries everywhere it goes. Employees easily understand and get behind it. Consequently, people have something to work toward. They're aligned around similar aims, and it avoids confusion as to the end goal of any individual's work.
3. Put the customer first.
As a complement to being the place for everything, Amazon always puts the customer first. It wants users/customers to have the best experience possible.
That also helps make decisions easy. Amazon is emphasizing the user as opposed to turning a profit, which eliminates misguided incentives. That has, consequently, helped Amazon thrive as a company; instilling this idea in employees' minds has created an obsession for the user, which has led to much of Amazon's success.
Related: 5 Ways to Put Your Customers First
4. Be patient.
Bezos has had a vision for Amazon since its inception. It's really been over the past few years, though, that the vision is coming to fruition in the expansive ways he envisioned. Plus, there's so much room left to grow.
With cultures and societies that can't always transform as rapidly as the technology around them, patience is key. It takes time to change consumer norms on a wide scale. Some people will not immediately feel comfortable receiving certain items via mail, even less so when it's on their doorstep within 48 hours.
This patience, earned through trusting the process, has allowed Amazon to grow steadily over time.
5. Embrace failure.
One thing Amazon does best is fail. In the early 2000s, for example, Amazon made a huge bet on Pets.com. It totally crashed. It's flopped at creating a phone, a high-end goods market and on countless other projects. For all the ones that failed, though, many of Amazon's risks have paid off.
Risk led to developing Amazon Web Services, to acquiring Zappos, to incorporating Whole Foods (it's too soon to tell how that risk will pay off) and to countless other decisions. It's these outside-the-box ideas that have set up Amazon for such large success.
It helps that Amazon does not punish failure. Bezos was quoted as saying, “If you’re going to take bold bets, they’re going to be experiments, and if they’re experiments, you don’t know ahead of time if they’re going to work. Experiments are by their very nature prone to failure. But a few big successes compensate for dozens and dozens of things that didn’t work.”
This mentality motivates employees to take chances, which is something lacking within many organizations.
6. Find the best people and go after them obsessively.
The people running some of the major teams at Amazon are the best of the best. Christine Beauchamp, former global brand president of Ralph Lauren, recently joined as president of Amazon Fashion, for instance. The list of hires Amazon has made from other top companies goes on and on.
Amazon is able to thrive and give its employees autonomy because of who the company hires.
Related: How to Avoid Hiring a Psychopath
7. Give people new roles when the time is right.
Amazon also promotes extensively from within. This gives people incentive to work hard as Amazon is frequently building out new teams and divisions that need leadership. It allows employees to thrive in new roles when they're ready, and it promotes an environment of hard, thoughtful work.
8. Embrace external trends.
In a 2017 shareholder letter, Bezos wrote about embracing the "external trend" of AI. Amazon is working to be relevant by staying updated on where technology is moving; it's seen too many tech giants become obsolete by not embracing change. This mentality allows Amazon to remain open to a host of opportunities.
9. Never eliminate quick decision-making and small teams.
Amazon is also able to move quickly. Its teams tend to be small and typically run autonomously, with the VPs reporting up. This allows for a startup environment with the resources and scale of a massive company. It gives employees more autonomy and resources to make things happen and grow, despite the numerous employees Amazon has.
10. Force people to be concise.
Amazon is against PowerPoint presentations. Instead, before meetings, a leader has to come with a six-page written memo that everyone reads immediately upon sitting down. This forces the leader to be concise and also extremely thoughtful. In reference to the memos, Bezos said, "Full sentences are harder to write. They have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking."
These memos force employees to really think about what they would like to say. It eliminates fluff and adds real substance to company conversations.
Amazon has taken a lot of risks, and not all of them have paid off. But many of them have, and it's because of Amazon's sheer strength of leadership. By creating an entire company capable of taking ownership, Amazon has been able to both give employees control of their work and take control of the market. Not every company can become a giant like Amazon, but every company can learn a few leadership tricks from its massive success.