Office Space: Zappos’ culture of happiness

Tony Hsieh (pronounced Shay) is the CEO and founder of the multibillion-dollar online retail business Zappos. Hsieh believes in encouraging people to be themselves at work. Though this may sound like a simple thing, Hsieh has built an amazing business culture by doing just that.

Hsieh’s No. 1 business priority is company culture, and it has been formalized by Zappos’ 10 core values:

  1. deliver wow through service
  2. embrace and drive change
  3. create fun and a little weirdness
  4. be adventurous, creative and open-minded
  5. pursue growth and learning
  6. build open and honest relationships with communication
  7. build a positive team and family spirit
  8. do more with less
  9. be passionate and determined
  10. be humble

The most culture-driven decision that Hsieh has made to date is to pay people to leave if they aren’t a good Zappos fit. His process involves on-boarding all new hires with two weeks of training in the call center, where they take actual customer calls. At the end of this training, Zappos offers every new employee the opportunity to leave, with pay for the training period, along with a $2,000 bonus. This offer is made to weed out the folks who aren’t a good cultural fit. Brilliant!

Whereas most businesses are trying to incorporate work/life balance into their company, Zappos is more interested in work/life integration. Hsieh believes that people can be more creative when they’re able to be the same person at work as they are at home. At Zappos, employees are given the freedom to provide whatever their version is of outstanding customer service. What a concept!

The advice that Hsieh offers other startups is to “figure out what your values are and then align the entire organization around them.'” He believes that in order to have deeply engaged customers, you need to have deeply engaged employees. This belief is validated by the fact that 75 percent of Zappos’ orders are from repeat customers.

Zappos’ employees are self-governed, with no bosses or hierarchy. This business model is referred to as a “holacracy,” where employees are evaluated and rewarded by their peers. The concept of holacracy is the brainchild of Brian Robertson, who believes this type of non-management makes organizations nimble and adaptable. Though Zappos’ employees admit that the transition to holacracy has definitely not been seamless, they appreciate the fact that all employees have an equal voice in the company’s decision-making.

John Bunch, a Zappos employee who oversees the holacracy, said: “Really, what we’re trying to do is turn each employee into a mini-entrepreneur who has the ability to sense ideas and do something about it.” Now that’s empowerment!


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