It may have taken awhile, but on his way out the door Jeff Bezos has gotten it right.
Amazon has a list of leadership principles, and just a few days before he stepped down as CEO, Mr. Bezos added two that fundamentally change the roles of leaders and the objectives of the company, putting them squarely in line with Stakeholder Capitalism.
Since its founding, Amazon has been laser-focused on its customer. In fact, “Customer Obsession” is the first principle on their list. But Mr. Bezos has reset the guiding values of one of the world’s largest employers. And he did it by adding these two principles:
- Strive to be Earth’s Best Employer
- Success and Scale Bring Broad Responsibility
Amazon has been heavily criticized during the pandemic, but Mr. Bezos is quick to point out that 94% of fulfillment center employees would recommend Amazon to a friend as a place to work. By adding these two principles, he’s committing the company to caring for its people at the same level it strives to care for its customers.
“It’s clear to me that we need a better vision for how we create value for employees—a vision for their success,” Mr. Bezos said. That vision is laid out in the Strive to be Earth’s Best Employer principle:
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.
That last sentence is striking. Commitment to the personal success of their employees is, sadly, a radical idea. And working backwards, we see the questions that guide how to achieve that success—helping develop, empower, and prepare their people. The outcomes of being “safer, more productive, higher performing, more diverse, and more just” result from a dedication to helping each individual access and achieve their potential and their definition of success.
The second addition—Success and Scale Bring Broad Responsibility—focuses more on being stewards of social and natural capital:
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.
Considering how Amazon impacts “communities, planet, and future generations” rounds out the vision of Stakeholder Capitalism. This is driven home in the environmental arena by Amazon’s goal use 100% renewable energy by 2025. Socially, Amazon can start with their commitment to being the world’s best employer. Empowering people to achieve their potential and open access to progress will enhance communities. Taking active steps to hire and develop a diverse workforce—which means personalizing the experience to attract different types of people—further enhances the mission of bringing positive social impact. Amazon could take this a step further by partnering with organizations that know how to serve disadvantaged populations and help them find and succeed in living wage work.
Now, the onus is on Amazon, its customers, and the public to hold them accountable to these principles. How are they measuring their success in becoming the best place to work? How are they tracking the personal success of their people? Other than the renewable energy goal, how are they contributing to the improvement of our planet? What are the outcomes they are achieving for local communities and society at large?
Mr. Bezos has committed Amazon not just to their own set of leadership principles, but also the ideals of Stakeholder Capitalism that require the organization to consider its impact on everyone and everything it touches. As a company founded on and powered by innovation, it will be interesting to see how they apply and account for these commitments to people and planet. What is certain is that Amazon has signaled the future of work to be a place of empowerment and profit not just for the organization, but also for individuals, environment, and society.