It’s not easy building a strong and sustainable workplace culture, and many companies spend a great deal of time trying but never seem to ever get it right.
That’s why it’s good to examine those organizations that have actually been able to build a strong culture that employees embrace and is clear and distinguishable to anyone who comes in contact with them.
This Business Insider video with Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh zeroes in on how the famous online shoe retailer (that is owned by Amazon) developed its quirky and often talked-about culture, and it’s interesting because it shows just how you build a set of core values to drive your culture that are unique and specific to your organization.
Making company values different
As someone who has spent far too many hours in conference rooms agonizing over mission statements and core values that never really seemed to connect with the organization, it’s refreshing to hear Hsieh talk about how he set out to make Zappos different. He says:
We decided to approach (our core values) differently because we wanted to come with committable core values. A lot of companies have what they might call core values or guiding principles … but the problem is usually they are lofty sounding and they read like a press release that the marketing department put out, and maybe you learn about them Day 1 in the orientation, but then it’s (just) that meaningless plaque on the lobby wall you’re talking about … for us, by committable we meant that we wanted to hire and fire people based on whether they were living up to those values completely independent of their job performance .. so even if they are a superstar, if they’re not living up to those core values then we will fire them just for that reason.”
Zappos’ core values are not just something that a small group of managers or company leaders put together. Hsieh pulled in the entire company for the project and had employees at all levels email him with suggestions for, and reactions to, the core values that were being discussed for the company
A year later, here are the 10 core values they came up with. They call it The Zappos Family Mission. As the document says:
As we grow, our processes and strategies may change, but we want our values to always remain the same. Our core values should always be the framework from which we make all of our decisions. Because this is our first time publishing our core values, there may be some additions or changes made over the next year, but our goal is to ultimately decide on a final list of core values to serve as the framework for how we run and grow our companies.”
The 10 core values at Zappos
Zappos notes that although “there are many sub-components to each value, we’ve distilled the most important themes into the following 10 core values.” They are:
- Deliver WOW Through Service.
- Embrace and Drive Change.
- Create Fun and A Little Weirdness.
- Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded.
- Pursue Growth and Learning.
- Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication.
- Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit.
- Do More With Less.
- Be Passionate and Determined.
- Be Humble.
One value that Hsieh talks about — and one that you probably don’t — is No. 3: Create Fun and A Little Weirdness.
Creating fun — and weirdness
He says that this fueled a question that gets asked of candidates in job interviews at Zappos — “On a scale of 1-10, how weird are you?” He goes on to explain:
If you’re a 1, you’re probably too straight-laced for the Zappos culture; if you’re 10, you might be too psychotic for us. But it’s not actually so much the number that we actually care about — it’s more how people answer …
Our belief is that everyone is a little weird somehow, and this is more just a fun way of saying, “We really recognize and celebrate each person’s individuality, and we want their true personality to shine in the workplace.” … When people can be themselves, that’s when the real friendships form, not just co-worker relationships, and that’s when the creative ideas come out and when employees are most productive.”
Zappos gets culture right
My take: This Zappos video on developing a culture is instructive because of how difficult it is to really create values and a mission that truly fits an organization.
Not a lot of companies get this right, and I have first-hand experience to tell you that the process of trying to get it correct can be long and excruciating — and you still may not get it pinned down properly.
I don’t agree with a lot of the goofy management trends that Tony Hsieh embraces (particularly holocracy), but when it comes to building a strong, unique, and sustainable culture, Tony seems to have it right.