Jeff Bezos and Amazon are facing unprecedented challenges.

On Saturday, Bezos posted an open letter to Amazon employees, in which he addresses some of what Amazon will have to navigate as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

I'll include the original Bezos post below. It's 534 words, and it's worth reading in full, especially if you're a business leader thinking about how to reassure and motivate employees in the current atmosphere. 

I'd pay careful attention to his structure, which unfolds in five key parts.  Here's the breakdown.

1. Bezos starts out with the brutal truth.

Let's assume Bezos wrote this all himself, as opposed to an assistant or other Amazon executive. 

The letter runs nine paragraphs, and I can put imagine being in Bezos's shoes at the outset, trying to figure out how begin. He goes with:

"This isn't business as usual, and it's a time of great stress and uncertainty. It's also a moment in time when the work we're doing is its most critical."

It's hard to get an opening right, but Bezos's first two sentences work because they express broad empathy and urgency--while also recognizing the brutal truths about life at Amazon right now: stress, uncertainty, and critical work.

2. Bezos sets the stakes for Amazon and expresses gratitude.

Delivery and logistics people are heroes right now, and Bezos spends the next two paragraphs reminding Amazon employees how grateful people are. For example:

  • "We're providing a vital service to people everywhere, especially to those, like the elderly, who are most vulnerable. People are depending on us."
  • "I've received hundreds of emails from customers and seen posts on social media thanking you all. Your efforts are being noticed at the highest levels of government, [including] President Trump."

This is very important because of what comes next.

3. Bezos manages expectations.

Bezos starkly describes the economic price that he believes the world will pay as a result of all of this. In fact, his 17 words near the top of this section are a chilling, given how effectively Bezos has predicted the future in the past:

"I'm sad to tell you I predict things are going to get worse before they get better."

Nevertheless, despite a sudden national outbreak of fear, Amazon is not just trying to keep workers on the job, but also trying to recruit 100,000 more employees.

The silver lining is that many U.S. workers are suddenly looking for work, and Bezos said he hopes "people who've been laid off will come work with us until they're able to go back to the jobs they had."

4. He addresses a big, obvious problem at Amazon.

Beyond that, there's a specific problem Amazon faces with no obvious solution: While people are being told in large numbers to stay home from work, much of Amazon's work has to be done on site.

And, while Bezos says Amazon facilities are increasing cleaning to practicing social distancing, the fact is that some workers are going to want personal protective equipment like masks and gloves--the same equipment that is in short supply in hospitals right now.

Amazon has "placed purchase orders for millions of face masks we want to give to our employees and contractors who cannot work from home," Bezos wrote, but very few have been fulfilled.

"It's easy to understand why the incredible medical providers serving our communities need to be first in line," he continued. "When our turn for masks comes, our first priority will be getting them in the hands of our employees and partners working to get essential products to people."

5. He promises a singular focus.

Bezos closes by saying that all of his time and thinking is now "wholly focused on COVID-19 and on how Amazon can best play its role."

And he said he worries about many of the same things that Amazon employees worry about: "from my own children, parents, family, friends, to the safety of you, my colleagues, to those who are already very sick, and to the real harm that will be caused by the economic fallout across our communities." 

Perfection would be a hard thing to ask for right now, but if you're a business leader looking for the right words to say to your teams, Bezos's letter to Amazon employees is not a bad place to look for inspiration.

You might even use the same five-part structure, tailored to your business.

Here's Bezos's Instragram post with the full text of his letter: