Leadership

Jeff Bezos to Amazon employees: If your boss says no, ask your boss' boss

Jeff Bezos, founder and chief executive officer of Amazon.com Inc., speaks during a discussion at the Air Force Association's Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018. 
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Jeff Bezos, founder and chief executive officer of Amazon.com Inc., speaks during a discussion at the Air Force Association's Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018. 

You can't get to innovation without saying 'yes' first. That's why Jeff Bezos makes it easy for Amazon employees to get an idea approved, even if their boss says 'no.'

Corporate bureaucracy kills too many great ideas, explained Bezos at a recent Air, Space and Cyber conference. In the typical hierarchical environment, a junior level employee needs an exec's approval to greenlight an idea. But for the idea to truly get support, that exec would need to get the go-ahead from yet another boss. At any point, a great idea could be stopped by just one person.

Amazon takes a different approach, says Bezos, providing "multiple paths to a yes."

Employees who get a 'no' from their direct boss can still pitch the idea to another executive for approval. "You want a large number of high level people empowered to greenlight things," says the CEO, adding that he often has people at Amazon go around him.

"I'll say, 'I don't think that's a good idea' but somebody else will greenlight it," admits Bezos. "And I'm fine with that because usually the cost of the experiment is pretty small."

Sparking this culture of "yes" takes leaders who can "disagree and commit," an idea Bezos has discussed in a past Amazon shareholder letter. When there's a project his team feels can be successful, Bezos puts his own reservations aside so the idea can move forward.

As he explained in that shareholder letter, he once disagreed with an Amazon Studios project his team supported. The CEO shared his views but also gave them his full support, saying "I disagree and commit and hope it becomes the most watched thing we've ever made."

He added: "Consider how much slower this decision cycle would have been if the team had actually had to convince me rather than simply get my commitment."

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