Tag Archives: Zappos

I’m Not Your Mother!

data point tuesday_500Some things are simple. Some things are complicated. And some things that seem simple are actually pretty complicated. For example, it seems like a simple observation that happy employees are better employees. And, in fact, data abound to prove that point. But how to get happy employees is a little more complicated.

Early in my career as a business leader I always believed that people were my critical competitive edge and that creating a strong, caring culture was my job. But happiness? Come on. I wasn’t my employees’ mother. The nature of the employer/employee relationship, I believed, was a commercial relationship. Employees come to work, do a good job and I pay them. The more I could remove obstacles from their ability to do good work, the more I could offer development and thanks for a job well done, the better they performed. It wasn’t rocket science. Treat people well and they’ll treat your employees well. I got that. But trying to make them happy? I didn’t think that was part of the deal. (And I was a pretty effective business leader.)

But as I matured as a leader, I did begin to wonder about this notion of working to create happiness at work. I spent some time at Zappos – a culture whose leader is all about making his workforce happy. And while the Zappos culture wouldn’t be a fit for me, it worked for them. And they were happy. Really happy. And their business results were such that they could sell the business to Amazon for over $1 billion.

And then I became CEO of the Great Place to Work Institute and was covered over in data that prove a direct line from employee well-being to financial performance. And so while early in my career the notion of employee happiness didn’t register as a leadership imperative, I now believe that creating a culture that, in Tony Hseih’s words, delivers happiness to employees is quite clearly a practical and effective way to achieve top line growth, profitability, customer loyalty and, most importantly, employee loyalty.

In preparation for the Globoforce WorkHuman Conference in a couple of weeks, I was reading up on employee happiness and ran across one of their white papers, The Science of Happiness. It’s a quick read and makes some rather simple but profound points backed up by reliable data.

Here are 6 reasons why you want happy employees based on research from the Wall Street Journal and the iOpener Institute. Happy employees:

  • Stay twice as long in their jobs as their least happy colleagues

  • Believe they are achieving their potential 2x as much

  • Spend 65% more time feeling energized

  • Are 58% more likely to go out of the way to help their colleagues

  • Identify 98% more strongly with the values of their organization

  • Are 186% more likely to recommend their organization to a friend

Download the paper. It’ll take you less than 10 minutes to read and will give you some simple ideas to begin to see the benefits of focusing on employee well-being and happiness. And then join me at the WorkHuman Conference June 8-10 in Orlando and let’s talk about happiness, gratitude, culture, and employee and organization success.



Filed under China Gorman, Culture, Data Point Tuesday, Globoforce, WorkHuman, Zappos

From the Archives: Job security is the #1 talent attraction magnet. Wait. What?

This was originally published on April 17, 2012.  It’s worth repeating…

In doing some research for a speech I’m giving, I came across The Talent Management and Rewards Imperative for 2012 from Towers Watson and WorldatWork.  It’s chock full of interesting data based on the 2011/2012 Towers Watson North American Talent Management and Rewards Survey and an unpublished Towers Watson 2011 survey of over 10,000 full-time employees in North America on topics such as total rewards, communication and other work-related issues.  Because I’ve been looking at data about the state of the talent pipeline (see Data Points #3, #5, #6), I thought this would be interesting reading.  Little did I know!

A couple of the data points that stood out to me challenge the “conventional wisdom.”  See what you think:

  • Only 11% of organizations have trouble retaining employees generally
  • Fully 68% of organizations identify high potentials, but only 28% inform those employees who have been identified.
  • Organizations underestimate the effect work-related stress and work/life balance have on employee retention, and do not recognized the significance of job security in attracting top talent.

Wait.  What?

It’s the last point that brought me up short.  Look at the chart below.

There are important disconnects between what employees report will attract them into a new job and what employers believe will be important in attracting talent into their organizations.  And if you look at the differing views between employers and high potential performers you’ll be even more surprised.

In all of the writing on this topic that I have seen in the last 18 months, no one else reports the significant importance of job security as part of an organization’s EVP (employee value proposition).  And look how it ranks as #1 for all employees as well as high-potential employees.  #1.

Not meaningful work.  Not alignment with the organization’s mission.  Job security.  Am I the only one surprised by this finding?

Look at the disconnect between the top 5 factors for all employees and employers’ top 5 factors.  Outside of base pay it’s a total mismatch!

On the high-potential performers side, outside of base pay and career development opportunity it’s a total mismatch!

It looks like we’re totally out to lunch when it comes to knowing what’s motivating in terms of EVP and the talent pipeline.  Out. To. Lunch.

In a world that observes the incredible talent acquisition strategies and investments at organizations like Zappos, PepsiCo, Rackspace and AT&T, we’re encouraged to believe that creating cultures of happiness and engagement are what it takes to delight customers and retain employees – high potential or otherwise.  And I chose those organizations because I know the ground-breaking work each is doing in terms of building their talent communities and the engagement of their workforce.  They truly are ground breaking.

It turns out talent attraction may be a bit more mundane than “creating a little weirdness.”

It turns out that some of the basics like job security and base pay still hold huge sway in our workforce.  And I think this is good news.  It gives” regular” employers doing good work and being good to their employees a fighting chance to keep their employees and attract the talent they’ll need going forward.

Basic blocking and tackling.  Basic management competence.  Basic HR.  Can’t get away from them if you want your organization to succeed.


Filed under AT&T, Business Success, Career Planning, China Gorman, Culture, Engagement, HR, Talent Management, Talent pipeline

What Comes First: Employees or Customers?

As a business leader, I’ve always believed that one of the most important aspects of my job is to create and lead a culture that motivates employees to come to work every day and do their very best work.  I’ve always known that in order to acquire, delight and retain customers my organizations (at the local, regional, national and global levels) needed to acquire, engage and retain the best talent.  I’ve always known that the link between customer and employee satisfaction is strong.

Over the last few months I’ve been able to take the time to read some great books, articles and research reports; to meet with thought leaders and executives; and to attend conferences and courses focused on these aspects of organization and leadership success.  Now I’ve got more than a “gut” instinct that the focus on creating a culture that puts customers first by recruiting, developing and retaining the right employees brings dividends that are more than repeat customers and happy employees.  Now I’ve got real data.

Where did I get the data?  I’ve read research reports from BlessingWhite, Gallup, SHRM, the U.S. Department of Labor and others.  I’ve read books by Chip Conley, Mark Sanborn, Geoff Colvin, Leigh Branham and Mark Hirschfeld, Tony Hsieh, Jim Collins, Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright and Jonathan Haidt among others.  I’ve had conversations with Tony Hsieh, Dave UlrichDoug and Kimberly Rath, Cathy Missildine-Martin, Paul Hebert, Joe Gerstandt, Jason Lauritsen, Chris Hoyt, Lars-Henrik Friis-Molin, John Sumser, William Tincup and many others.  Basically, I’ve been a sponge.

And the outcome?  Well now I see clearly that while having happy, committed employees is critical for organizational success, having the right happy, committed employees makes the difference between good customer service and exceptional customer service;  the difference between good organization performance and exceptional organization performance — by any measure you wish to use. 

The right happy employees are determined by what will exceed the customers’ expectations.  And that’s about culture and values. 

To create a culture that retains happy employees feels good on many levels.  What leader doesn’t want to walk around and see smiling faces on their employees?  But to create a culture that retains employees happy to make your customers ecstatic is the secret sauce of organization success. 

The reason for an organization’s existence is not to create a “happy” environment for employees.  The reason for an organization’s existence is to create value for its stakeholders by serving its customers.  You win in business by serving your customers better than anyone else.  And it’s clear to me now that the key to serving your customers better than anyone else lies squarely in creating a culture that attracts and retains the right employees.  I’m not sure many leaders see the difference here, but it seems huge to me.

In the hard work of creating a motivating culture almost every organization starts with their employees:  what makes them happy, what will engage them, what will motivate them to commit over the long haul.  I’ve come to believe that the hard work of creating a motivating culture needs to start at a different place:  conversations with customers and potential customers.  What is important to them in their interactions with your employees?  What values will motivate their engagement, their commitment over the long haul?  Once you have that input you can begin to translate it into organizational values, characteristics, behaviors and skills that become the basis for your culture work – and, ultimately, your talent acquisition, engagement, development and retention strategies.

It’s clear to me that both culture and organization success has to start with the customer.  Only then will you know what kind of talent acquisition, engagement and retention strategies will lead to the type of organizational success that will value your organization among the strongest financial performers and land you on the lists of best companies to work for. 

In other words, when creating and leading your organization’s culture look first to your customers and second  to your employees. 

Most do it the other way around.


Filed under Uncategorized

This just in: chef says my expectations for toast are too high!

My second post (after the one graciously published at The HR Capitalist) was going to be about culture, leadership and business success using Zappos’ approach to customer service as a case study.  But here’s the thing:  once I started thinking about it, I see examples of wretched customer service everywhere I go.  Take this morning, for example.

My husband and I are on vacation celebrating our 27th anniversary and my xxth birthday at our favorite place in the world (after Positano, Italy):  Lake Tahoe.  If you’ve never been here, it’s a must for your bucket list.  I’m looking out the window of my hotel room and see the breathtaking gradations of aqua in the water, the still snow covered mountains rimming the lake – all under a canopy of the bluest blue sky I’ve ever seen.  Inspiring.

We went to breakfast at one of the great places the “locals” frequent (we lived here 17 years ago).  We sat on the deck overlooking the lake and watched all the folks streaming in to the area to stake out good spots from which to watch the fireworks this evening.  Our breakfast order was pretty simple.  French toast for me, bananas on the side and the potato/sausage skillet with runny, over easy eggs and sourdough toast (toasted “golden brown”) for my husband. 

The server was a chipper and pleasant gal in her early 20’s.  No problem on the eggs and certainly no problem on the toast.  We were optimistic.  Well, the eggs came hard and the toast wasn’t even toasted.  Just kind of warm.  When my husband asked her to make them right she got all “Miss Thing” on us and tried to convince him that the warm toast really was golden brown and the clearly hard egg yolks really were runny.  He didn’t buy it. 

The eggs came back a second time and they were perfect, but by then the skillet part was cold.  And the toast, well, the toast was burned to a crisp.  When my husband pointed out to the server that the toast was inedible she got really defensive.  At that point he asked to see the manager.  My husband’s a big guy (former Division I football player) and knows that he easily intimidates people even when he’s not trying.  So he was not aggressive or demonstrative at all.  In fact, I would have been a lot stronger in my expression of displeasure.  My “Miss Thing” act is pretty convincing.

The manager – actually the chef – came over and was sort of apologetic and offered to buy our breakfasts.  We accepted.  But he ruined the save by becoming defensive and puzzled that we would be less than pleased with the service – after all, the eggs came back the second time as ordered.  And the toast, well, toasters are tough machines to work with and we shouldn’t have such high expectations for toast.  Really?  Our toast options are slightly warm or burned to a crisp?

I know that being a server in a restaurant isn’t easy.  I certainly couldn’t do it.  I’d be dropping plates, breaking glasses and spilling stuff — probably on the customers.  I would be a disaster.  But I think that service businesses of any size should be paying more attention to the cultures of service they’re trying to create and select their staffs with that culture in mind before they start evaluating the skills of applicants.  And then some training around building relationships, exceeding customer expectations and taking a long term view of the customer experience might be helpful.  Clearly none of that was happening here. 

In the broad scale of things, poor service from a small, locally owned restaurant isn’t that big a deal.  Except that we expect  and accept bad service so consistently that when we experience good – or even great – service it shocks us to our boots!  And here’s the thing:  it can’t be that hard!  I know people will and have made observations that no American wants a service job anymore and that the Gen Xers were brought up in such a manner as makes them totally unable to get outside themselves to think about others or take personal responsibility for anything.  I don’t buy either argument.  I think there’s great power in serving.  I think there’s no greater satisfaction than in helping others.  I think that we’ve given up expecting good from our fellow human beings and expect everyone to be selfish, in it only for themselves and unwilling to set self aside for the greater good – especially in the commercial world. 

And that’s why the Zappos’ culture is so noteworthy.  Here’s a CEO, a company culture and employees who exist to rock our world with the best customer service known to humankind.  Think about that.  They’re not in business to sell shoes, apparel or housewares.  They’re in business to provide the best customer service in the world.  Makes me want them to sell cars, homes, travel (Zappos Airlines, anyone?) and everything I buy!  I’ll explore that a little more next week when I get back from vacation.  

In the meantime, do you agree with the chef?  Are my expectations too high?

Here’s hoping your egg yolks are always runny and your toast is always golden brown – if that’s the way you like them!  And Happy Birthday America!


Filed under Business Success, Customer service