How should I answer 'Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit' interview questions?

Nick Dimitrov

Nick Dimitrov

21 Jul, 2021


Describe an accomplishment which illustrates the Amazon Leadership Principle 'Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit.'

Hi! I'm Nick, a former Amazon Bar Raiser. And I'd like to answer the question of how you should describe an accomplishment, during the Amazon interview, which illustrates the Amazon Leadership Principle 'Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit.' That's one of the more controversial Leadership Principles in terms of how do you present yourself, are you firm, are you accommodating with the other side.

So, one way you can present yourself professionally when responding to a Backbone question is using a particular construct, a particular progression in your response. Obviously, you're going to describe a situation where you disagreed with someone, and how you reached the conclusion and a resolution would be constructed by five different building blocks. Or you would go through five different steps to get to the final destination.

So, step one or part one is you attempting to convince the other party with whom you disagree that a different approach would resolve their needs better than the approach that they are pushing and that they are asking for. That type of step and that type of approach would showcase the fact that you are customer obsessed, in addition to having Backbone. You focus on Dive Deep, you Invent and Simplify, you think of different solutions to the same problem, so on and so forth. So, part one is try to find out if a different solution would resolve your customer's needs of the other party's needs, with whom you're disagreeing, better than what they are asking you to do.

If that fails, step two of the process is try to convince the other party with data and with customer anecdotes that you're correct and they are incorrect. This doesn't have to do with who's right and who's wrong. It's about your data and your set of facts and circumstances are more accurate that the other party's. So that's step two, that's part two of your progression.

Part three is if the opposing party still remains in opposition then what you can do is ask them to let you experiment with a small MVP solution, a small prototype that would convince them that truly your approach is an efficient one. You've failed to convince them in step one that a different approach would solve their problem. You've failed to convince them in step two that your data is more accurate than their data. So, in step three, you're asking the person or the entity, to gamble on you, in a way. And let you experiment with a quick solution to showcase them that you are indeed the party that has the right answer.

So, step four, if all those three steps fail prior to step four, step four or part four of your progression would be to embrace the other party's viewpoint. So, at that point you flip from disagreeing to committing. You flip from the Disagree part of the Leadership Principle, to the Commit part of the Leadership Principle. And at that point, you start pushing and advocating and working as hard as you can for the other party's success instead of the initial position that you had yourself. So that's step four.

And step five, the final step, happens when you find out what is the outcome of the other party's approach or viewpoint. And again, it doesn't really matter who's right and who's wrong. If let's say their approach turns out to be an unsuccessful approach. And, let's say, your initial approach is the correct one, then you should not rub their nose in it and say 'Well, I told you so. Now let's go to my original approach.' Instead, you should say, 'Hey, we attempted this. It didn't work out. That's disappointing. Now let's shift to a different approach. Because you want to resolve the problem as a team. That's what matters. It doesn't matter who's right or who's wrong.

What matters is how you approach the issue and that's going to demonstrate Backbone to Amazon. It's going to demonstrate also other Leadership Principles, in tandem, in the process. As I mentioned, it's going to demonstrate Customer Obsession, Dive Deep, Earns Trust, Invent and Simplify, so on and so forth. And, hopefully, that's going to answer the interviewer's question as to whether you raise the bar on the 'Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit' Leadership Principle, or not.

I hope this is helpful. Best of luck to you in your Amazon interview. Chin up and stay in touch. Bye!

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