Monday, February 2, 2009

Zappos Employees Speak About a Great Work Place

Tony Hsieh, CEO Zappos.comImage by Laughing Squid via Flickr

Zappos - A Great Place to Work

Like many of my peers in Human Resources, I recently took a tour at the Henderson, Nevada offices of Many thanks to CEO Tony Hsieh who helped me make contact with his wonderful Customer Service Concierge group.

I would have been thrilled to visit Zappos at any time, but I was really fortunate to visit their offices just a week after they were named as one of the 100 Best Companies to Work For by Fortune Magazine.

As Tony says in his blog:

It's official! made FORTUNE MAGAZINE's "100 Best Companies To Work For" list for 2009 - and we're actually mentioned on the cover!

To give a little bit of history, FORTUNE puts out this high profile list every year. Making this list was one of the most important goals that we set for ourselves during the early days of Zappos, and we're all super excited to show up on the list for the first time in our company's history! To qualify, a company has to be at least 7 years old and have at least 1000 employees. We came in at #23 this year, making us the highest ranking newcomer for 2009.
Tony also shares a number of related links, including

In an email from Tony after my visit, he described being named to the Fortune list as follows:

It's actually a huge milestone for us -- one of our original goals from when the early days of the company.

We're currently in the process of getting t-shirts made to give to all the employees. This summer, we will be doing a big party to celebrate these 3 big milestones for us:

- Fortune 100 Best Companies

- $1 billion in gross merchandise sales

- 10 year anniversary

Rather than tell you what I loved about my tour at Zappos today, let me share a bit more about Tony Hsieh and his thoughts on culture, and how the culture at Zappos has become the core of one of the most exciting companies doing business today. The following is from Your Culture is Your Brand.

At, we decided a long time ago that we didn't want our brand to be just about shoes, or clothing, or even online retailing. We decided that we wanted to build our brand to be about the very best customer service and the very best customer experience. We believe that customer service shouldn't be just a department, it should be the entire company.

So what's a company to do if you can't just buy your way into building the brand you want? What's the best way to build a brand for the long term?

In a word: culture.

At Zappos, our belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff -- like great customer service, or building a great long-term brand, or passionate employees and customers -- will happen naturally on its own.

We believe that your company's culture and your company's brand are really just two sides of the same coin. The brand may lag the culture at first, but eventually it will catch up.

Your culture is your brand.

So how do you build and maintain the culture that you want?

It starts with the hiring process. At Zappos, we actually do two different sets of interviews. The hiring manager and his/her team will do the standard set of interviews looking for relevant experience, technical ability, fit within the team, etc. But then our HR department does a separate set of interviews, looking purely for culture fit. Candidates have to pass both sets of interviews in order to be hired.

We've actually said no to a lot of very talented people that we know can make an immediate impact on our top or bottom line. But because we felt they weren't culture fits, we were willing to sacrifice the short term benefits in order to protect our culture (and therefore our brand) for the long term.

After hiring, the next step to building the culture is training. Everyone that is hired into our headquarters goes through the same training that our Customer Loyalty Team (call center) reps go through, regardless of department or title. You might be an accountant, or a lawyer, or a software developer -- you go through the exact same training program.

It's a 4-week training program, in which we go over company history, the importance of customer service, the long term vision of the company, our philosophy about company culture -- and then you're actually on the phone for 2 weeks, taking calls from customers. Again, this goes back to our belief that customer service shouldn't just be a department, it should be the entire company.

At the end of the first week of training, we make an offer to the entire class. We offer everyone $2000 to quit (in addition to paying them for the time they've already worked), and it's a standing offer until the end of the fourth week of training. We want to make sure that employees are here for more than just a paycheck. We want employees that believe in our long term vision and want to be a part of our culture. As it turns out, on average, less than 1% of people end up taking the offer.

One of the great advantages of focusing on culture is when reporters come and visit our offices. Unlike most companies, we don't give reporters a small list of people they're allowed to talk to. Instead, we encourage them to wander around and talk to whoever they want. It's our way of being as transparent as possible, which is part of our culture.

We've formally defined our the Zappos culture in terms of 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

Many companies have core values, but they don't really commit to them. They usually sound more like something you'd read in a press release. Maybe you learn about them on day 1 of orientation, but after that it's just a meaningless plaque on the wall of the lobby.

We believe that it's really important to come up with core values that you can commit to. And by commit, we mean that you're willing to hire and fire based on them. If you're willing to do that, then you're well on your way to building a company culture that is in line with the brand you want to build. You can let all of your employees be your brand ambassadors, not just the marketing or PR department. And they can be brand ambassadors both inside and outside the office.

At the end of the day, just remember that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff -- including building a great brand -- will fall into place on its own.

And so, I wandered around with my Flip Cam and asked some Zapponians how they felt about their company being named to the Fortune list. Here is what Graham, Rudy and Rob had to say.

They really are great ambassadors! Is your company brave enough to allow anyone to walk around with a video camera and get unmonitored video comments from your employees?

Meet Graham

Meet Rudy

Meet Rob

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