Amazon and the Importance of Treating Employees Right at a Customer-Centric Organization

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

After 27 years of running the company he founded and turning it into one of the most valuable enterprises in the world, Jeff Bezos has stepped down as CEO of Amazon. In addition to revolutionizing retail, Bezos built a reputation as someone keenly interested in effective management and leadership during his tenure. He took pains to codify his thinking, often in his annual letters to shareholders. The company also publishes its core principles on its website and is explicit about how leaders should embody those principles.

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So when Bezos added two new items to his list of leadership principles, growing their number from 14 to 16, shortly before stepping down as CEO, author Minda Zetlin took notice. “The new principles appear to be a farewell gift from Bezos to the company he founded, and to everyone who reads and follows them, as every leader should,” Zetlin wrote in a story for Inc.

The additions are:

  • “Strive to be Earth’s best employer.”
  • “Success and scale bring broad responsibility.”

The first, “strive to be Earth's best employer,” focuses on empowering employees and the importance of leaders investing in their employees’ personal success:

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.

Issues of worker treatment are at the center of the high-profile unionization effort Amazon has been fighting in Alabama. The first vote in April went strongly against unionization, but employees may get another one after the National Labor Relations Board found that the union may not have had a fair shot. Now, Bezos says, Amazon needs a different mindset.

We’ve long admired Bezos’s radical customer centricity. The very first of his leadership principles is 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.

Only a few months ago, however, we wrote a section of our upcoming book, Winning on Purpose, on the hole we spotted in his leadership rules. That hole was the absence of the Golden Rule, the imperative to treat others (customers, employees, other stakeholders) as you would wish to be treated. None of Bezos’s principles, we noted, acknowledged the importance of treating employees with loving kindness, of caring deeply for their safety and well-being, or even of “treating people right.”

While Amazon started as, and remains, a company built on the strength of its digital experience, all those packages don’t yet deliver themselves. Without dedicating itself to becoming a truly great place for all employees to work, a place where they can lead great lives, we wondered whether Amazon could hope to sustain its success over the long term.

Clearly, Bezos took a big step in this direction when he inaugurated his new principles. This is important because our interviews with current and former Amazon executives have convinced us that these leadership principles are discussed every day and thoughtfully embedded into every management process, including hiring, training, promotions, and the treatment of customers.

Time will tell if the company can move these two new additions from words on a webpage to a true company evolution. It’s a process that will have to happen under the financial pressures of being a public company and without Amazon’s visionary founder at the helm.


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