3 Lessons from Zappos on Creating Culture

Posted October 09, 2012

Check out the Culture at Zappos


Zappos calls itself a service company that just happens to sell shoes, clothing, handbags (and a bunch of other stuff).

But, at its root, Zappos is less of a company and more of a culture – a kind of nation in and of itself that operates under its own values and norms (weirdness, “wow” and humility, to name a few) with above-and-beyond customer service as its primary export, along with the shoes and pretty much anything else under the retail umbrella.

“Our whole belief is that if we get the culture right, then most of the other stuff, like delivering great customer service or building a long term enduring brand, will happen naturally on its own,” CEO Tony Hsieh has said.

The culture approach has paid off for Nevada-based Zappos – sales have grown nearly every year since its founding in 1999. And in 2009, when the company was acquired by Amazon, sales hit $1.2 billion.

Jamie Naughton, speaker of the house at Zappos, recently swung by CareerBliss to talk to us about how to create a winning culture.

1. Create Culture Intentionally

The Zappos culture didn’t just develop on its own. Hsieh set out to create it – and he enlisted employees help him do it.

Back when Zappos had just a few hundred employees, Hsieh asked them to tell him what values and traits best represented Zappos and its employees. The exercise resulted in the 10 core values Zappos lives by today.

Each year the values are reinforced and reinterpreted by employees in Zappos’ annual culture book.

Eric K., for instance, summed up what Zappos means to him in the 2010 culture book: “Situational comedy. And yellow bananas.”

Culture Takeaway: Build the culture on a foundation of values, and get employees to embrace the culture by giving them the opportunity to help shape it.

2. Culture Comes First

Sure, technical skill is important when it comes to who gets hired at Zappos. However, it’s certainly not the deciding factor. If you want to get a job offer, you have to be a culture fit (so get ready to rank your weirdness on a scale of 1 to 10 during the culture interview).

If HR deems you aren’t a fit, Naughton says, “you’re dead in the water,” no matter how much the hiring manager wants to bring you on board.

And the focus on cultural fit doesn’t end once you’re hired. Zappos doesn’t do yearly performance reviews, says Naughton, it does yearly culture reviews to evaluate how well employees are adhering to the company’s 10 core values (though the employees still do get frequent feedback on performance).

“If you’re going to hire off of these values,” she says, “you have to be willing to fire off of these values.”

Culture Takeaway: Keep the culture strong by making cultural fitness the overriding measure of a candidate, and continue to protect the culture by assessing employees’ ongoing fitness.

3. Live the Culture

Impromptu parades at the office. Upgrading a customer’s shipping as a surprise. A Peeps diorama contest for Easter. Sending flowers to a bereaved customer.  An 8-hour-plus customer service call.

These are just some of the manifestations of Zappos’ core values.

“They aren’t just a list of things we have up on the wall that we look at and ignore,” Zappos employee Devlyn says in a company video. “We really try to live and breathe them in every aspect of operations. … Every department has an interpretation of them – it helps make us the company we are.”

Culture Takeaway: Empower employees to interpret company values and make the culture their own – both in their interactions internally and with customers.

photo of The CareerBliss Team

The CareerBliss Team

CareerBliss cares about your career happiness. That's why we offer a variety of great tools and resources to help you make better-informed career decisions. We believe that if you're happier at work, you'll be happier in life! Check out company reviews, salary information, career advice and, of course, millions of jobs on CareerBliss and choose happy today!

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