If you’re reading this blog post, you’re either a participant in the world of social media, or you’re my mom. (Hi, Mom!) If you’re a participant in the world of social media, you’ve heard of Zappos. Because Zappos has been the poster child for the effective use of social media to drive sales through customer satisfaction for the last 3 or 4 years, they’re mentioned in every presentation on social media I’ve ever seen. Heck, even I referenced them in a talk I gave to the Human Resource Policy Institute at Boston University last year. It seems as if Zappos is everywhere in social media and more and more in traditional media – and I hear that HR professionals are starting to tire of hearing about Zappos’ success with all things social media, its engaging culture, the free tours of its headquarters (which they do 4 times a day!), and their 10 core values.
It does seems as if Zappos and its CEO, Tony Hseih, are everywhere in the traditional print and social media scenes these days. (Check out the current Harvard Business Review article, “How I did it…Zappos’s CEO on Going to Extremes for Customers.”) And the topic is always the same: Tony’s conviction that culture drives organizational success. Period.
Since I moved back to Vegas last month, I took the opportunity to go on the Zappos tour, meet some of their leaders, and do a little poking around. I can understand HR folks being skeptical after all the coverage. Usually when something seems too good to be true, it is. But before you throw them overboard, ask questions. Go visit. Test them. Don’t decide not to talk about them because you think they’re overexposed. Because here’s the thing: what they’re doing is working. The hype matches the reality.
The leadership of the company is singularly focused on creating a culture based on 10 core values and it’s clear when you visit that the employees know them and live them. Check out this video. And you can see and hear CEO TonyHsieh talk about the culture here.
And the results and stats are impressive. Their turnover is low, their customer satisfaction (which they track daily through net promoter scores) is enviable, it’s harder to get a job there than it is to get in to Harvard, and they’ve successfully weathered being acquired by Amazon. Here’s a memo the CEO sent to his colleagues last week at the one year anniversay of that acquisition. (Note that he tweeted the public availability of this memo after posting it internally.)
You’ve seen all this before. But here’s where the rubber meets the road. Not only is the culture the foundation for their success, they’ve created a new company, Zappos Insights, to share their learnings, provide support, and create a community of culture focused leaders. In other words, they’ve turned their successful culture into a profit center.
I attended a Zappos Insights Gold one-day event last month. There were 13 of us in the group: three leaders of a small tech firm that had just been purchased by a major telcom company; two leaders from a hip shoe business in New York City; a team of seven (including the Director) from the customer service division of a major cruise line; and me. It was an illuminating day to say the least. We got to talk to HR and recruiting folks, the pipeline (training) leader, managers from the Customer Loyalty Team (call center), with lots of time for interaction and Q&A. We started, of course, with the tour of the headquarters and got to see the Zapponians at work in their natural habitat.
I’ll be honest. I was skeptical. But I have to tell you the culture was palpable. There was a positive energy in the place that I haven’t felt for some time. With a 36 year old CEO and over 400 people in the call center, it wasn’t surprising that the average age felt like it was well under 30. But to be fair, it felt good. Really good.
I had read Tony Hsieh’s new book, Delivering Happiness, before the event, so I was current on the Zappos history (which is so important that there’s a course on it in the pipeline (training) curriculum). And I attended as a participant, but also as an observer of this phenomenon. Gang, they’re doing great stuff. The participants of that one day event came away with concrete information – right from the source – about how to select employees and treat customers to create a culture of success. Adding membership to the experience keeps you in touch with others who are trying to achieve the same results and gives you a constant influx of interviews, how to’s, and other useful, practical information from the Zappos leadership team.
So I don’t know about you, but I think there’s something to this. Creating a culture that’s so strong it draws tourists and can be turned in to a profit center seems like a good thing to me. What do you think?