Living Your Culture—Zappos Style

I love shoes--always have and always will! I love shopping for them and wearing them! I am not alone in my love of shoes judging by the popularity of companies like Zappos. The first time I ordered from Zappos I was extremely impressed with the extraordinary level of service and that first experience wasn't a fluke--subsequent orders have been handled well, the products almost always as described and my infrequent returns graciously accepted.

These interactions piqued my interest in Zappos as an organization, so I started researching Zappos. I was delighted to learn, that unlike many successful companies who carefully guard their secrets to success, Tony Hsieh, CEO, is open about their values and what makes them successful (so successful that they were acquired by Amazon but have been able to retain their well-defined culture and values).

Zappos believes that their culture “embodies many different elements. It’s about always looking for new ways to WOW everyone we come in contact with. It’s about building relationships where we treat each other like family. It’s about teamwork and having fun and not taking ourselves too seriously. It’s about growth, both personal and professional….It’s about having faith that if we do the right thing, then in the long run we will be part of building something great.”

In his book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose, Tony writes about how a company’s culture and a company’s brand are really just two sides of the same coin. The brand is simply a lagging indicator of the culture.

When Zappos started to grow, they had discussions about how to sustain the culture they wanted. The leadership discussed how they could remember what it was like at the beginning and how they could share those memories with new hires while building excitement for what was to come. From these discussions came the Culture Book which is published annually with quotes and pictures from employees. You can check out their website and order a free copy if you are interested in learning more. I just received my copy of the 2012 Culture Book and it is filled with amazing stories and pictures that showcase what the Zappos culture means to employees.

Zappos culture is based on their 10 core values which provide a blueprint for every decision. Many organizations have core values and may even post them on the wall or bulletin board but do they live them? At Zappos, they talk about them and they use their core values. Their values play a big part in how they hire, train and develop their employees. One of my favorite practices at Zappos is that everyone hired goes through four weeks of training. New hires learn about company strategy and about the culture and why it is critical to the organization’s success. They learn about the customer service philosophy, but not just in words—everyone spends two weeks working in the call center taking care of customers. And, during the training phase, they offer new hires cash to quit so that they are careful not to hire people who are just there for a paycheck. 2-3% of new hires take the cash and leave while the remainder go on to work for a company that is built on great customer service that just happens to sell shoes!

Recently Zappos announced they are reorganizing around a new managerial concept. It will be interesting to see if the culture stays strong or is impacted by this shift.

What might you apply from the Zappos story to your organization? I’m off to order more shoes!


1 comment ()

1. Debbie Siday wrote:
I had the opportunity to experience Zappos culture first hand when I attended their life coach training. It is unique, energizing and amazing to see a workforce that is so engaged and aligned. My visit was timed to coincide with their company meeting and all I can say us WOW! It will be interesting to see how Amazon "realigns" them going forward.

Years ago I had the honor of being part of a dream team of executives lead by a CEO, Bill Eacho, who understood the impact of engaged employees and the bottom line. We implemented all the "inherent truths" of cultural best practices, starting with listen to the people who do the job. Our bottom line increased from 1.25 to 5.87 during an amazing five year journey. We were aquired by one of the big three food service distributors who wanted to learn our formula for success, and who slowly dismantled the culture. Within 18 months our profits decreased to the industry average of 2.5 and our best talent moved on to other forward thinking organizations. This is a story that I've seen repeated over and over again. I hope Amazon has more vision.

I would love to see you follow Zappos through their cultural reorganization. It would be interesting to read how they are doing in 2 years. For me the question is can the culture built on the vision and leadership of one man (Steve Jobs, Tony Hsieh) survive after the leader is gone?
Is gone?

March 11, 2014 @ 5:39 AM

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