zappos

Last December I spent three amazing days – no joke – with a farmer, doughnut maker, author, apron entrepreneur, musician and academic, to name a few. And one particularly sharp internal communicator. (And yes, on more than one occasion, we walked into a bar together.)

We participated in “Creativ Week,” a monthly experience for leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs to explore important social topics and learn more about theDowntown Project, an urban revitalization effort in downtown Las Vegas. Sponsored by Delivering Happiness, our theme was “Giving Forward: Sustainable Generosity and the new ROI (or Ripple of Impact).” We held meetings throughout downtown Las Vegas and a common discussion was company culture, particularly since Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh founded both the Downtown Project and Delivering Happiness.

If you’ve read Hsieh’s book, Delivering Happiness, you know he believes that company culture is the number one driver of business success. It’s a pretty simple formula: Happy employees = happy customers = more sales. So, for a culture geek like me, one of the highlights of the week was a tour of the Zappos headquarters. (By the way, anyone can schedule a tour if you’re in the area; it’s even reviewed on Yelp.)

Through my internal comms lens, I noticed a few things about Zappos employees:

  • They have a sense of humor. We were greeted by Zappos “mayor” Jerry Tidmore who checked us in. Behind him, I noticed a wall of business ties, all cut in half. Jerry explained that, if anyone comes in for an interview wearing a tie, they offer to cut it off and put it on the “wall of ties.” Later, when we were led through the hallways, a group of employees were inflating a 6-foot tall reindeer. It’s hard to be grumpy when you’re visiting Zappos.
  • They’re empowered. How many of you have the word “empowerment” in your company values? And, to quote Dr. Phil, “How’s that working for you?” Empowerment is an easy value to advocate, but requires a level of trust that many companies can’t stomach. Zappos employees are committed to stay on the phones with customers as long as needed (one historic call lasted 10 hours) and are empowered to respond to customer requests or, if they want to delight or surprise someone, send out free replacement shoes or even cookies without asking a supervisor.
  • They’re a little weird. In fact, “Create fun and a little weirdness” is their third of 10 company values. They encourage people to bring their whole selves to work – and even ask about weirdness, on a scale of 1-10, in their interviews. When’s the last time that happened in your job interview?
  • They invest in their people and culture. No matter what the job, if you’re hired at Zappos, you’ll spend four weeks in training, including being on the phones with customers. Before the onboarding is complete, Zappos offers its new employees up to $4,000 to say it’s not for them. (Only 3% of employees take them up on that offer.) On the flip side, Zappos offers a life coach for those who hang in there to pursue personal or professional goals. They also get free lunches to encourage on-site collaboration.
  • If you’re easily distracted, Zappos probably isn’t for you. Our group discussed that very few of us would probably fit with the Zappos culture. When we asked our tour guide about this, she shrugged and reminded us that this perceived chaos is simply their culture. And they always hire first for culture.

After our tour, our team shared our thoughts and took photos wearing funny hats. Which seemed wonderful – and maybe a little weird. How great is that?