Culture August 22nd, 2019

How To Decode Your Culture: A Q&A With Zappos Insights

Hitting the snooze button six times is not a good sign.

For many of us, the mere thought of crawling out of bed and heading to work can be unbearable. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh was at that point 1998 when he sold his former company, LinkExchange, to Microsoft for about $265 million.

Hsieh didn't sell his company because the price was right. He sold it because he dreaded going to work every day. It was "death by a thousand paper cuts," as he famously wrote in his book, "Delivering Happiness."

For Hsieh, he hit a wall. When he ran out of friends and friends-of-friends to hire at LinkExchange, he began onboarding for just skills and experience, rather than company culture. The culture and camaraderie he loved became non-existent, and the company he'd built quickly became unrecognizable.

So when Hsieh took over for Zappos, he made a promise not to allow history to repeat itself.

Zapponians show off their 2018 culture book

Culture would guide the discretionary behavior of the company. This includes how Zappos hires and fires employees, as well as how employees interact with customers, vendors and peers.

But where do you start when trying to create, or even nurture, your company's culture? You start with Zappos Insights!

In an interview with Insights' Christa Foley, she discusses why the program was developed, its scope and purpose, and how other companies can take advantage of what Zappos has learned about company culture throughout its 20-year history.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

First and foremost, tell us a bit about Insights, such as what is it and its general purpose.

Zappos Insights is a company within Zappos that began in 2009. We love teaching other companies how to improve their culture, attract and keep great people, deliver WOW customer service, and grow their business. Culture is totally our jam here at Zappos and Zappos Insights.

The original idea was to focus on building an online membership/subscription model. But we quickly realized the value of offering live, in-person training and sharing opportunities so people could experience the Zappos culture firsthand.

Christa Foley, Zappos Insights

What are your roles and responsibilities at Zappos, and specifically with Insights?

Most of us at Zappos wear many hats. My external title is senior director of brand vision and culture, as well as head of talent acquisition.

I have worked with Insights for almost eight years, where I hold the roles of Q&A facilitator and mentor. My responsibilities include conducting onsite and virtual Q&As with folks who want to learn about Zappos, specifically if the topic or area of interest is our history, company culture, core values or recruiting.

You've been with Zappos since 2004. Why do you believe Zappos' culture has been so successful for so long?

Because we commit to it. We are not a perfect company, nor have we ever claimed to be. We also do not think every other company should be just like Zappos and adopt our company culture. What we do think — and have 20 years of experience to show — is that focusing on company culture, committing to it, living it can have a dramatic impact on your business, your customers and your people.

We firmly believe that if you get the culture right at your organization, everything else naturally follows.



How do you define company culture?

For me, our culture means living our core values, and that translates into working for a company that focuses on a higher purpose than just the almighty dollar. It's working for a company that cares about me as an employee; a company that cares about doing what is right for our customers; a company that works to be a contributing partner in our community, both locally and in the world at large.

And what makes this all possible is clear: We follow our 10 Core Values without exception.

Why do you think organizations struggle with this idea of culture? Does having defined values play a role?

If a company doesn't have values, then yes, they're missing what anchors and shapes a company's culture. Definitely start with defining your values. If a company has values and is concerned about the existing company culture, I'd say it makes sense to do some soul searching on whether you are living the values.

For example, did you include your whole organization in creating them, or was it a list handed to your folks from the CEO or human resources? Is it a list of values that impacts and frames how you operate and the decisions you make, or is it a marketing piece and a plaque on the wall?

Culture Camp attendees learn about customer service

What types of services does Insights offer small businesses and large corporations? How is it different from other programs?

We offer lots of ways for folks to learn about Zappos' approach to company culture, customer service, and people. From curated content available for free on our website or a 90-minute tour; to live training events, like our Culture Camp.

The cool thing about Culture Camp is that it is three days of immersion into the Zappos Culture. We spend day one diving into core values, culture and people/HR practices. Day two goes over how to empower customer service folks and deliver WOW service. On day three, attendees get to experience our culture in action as guests at our companywide all-hands meeting.

We also offer our School of WOW for Leaders and School of Wow for Front-Line Staff. These are both one-day training events that share our approach to customer service. And we can customize training if an organization has specific needs.

Does the age of a company matter when incorporating culture?

The best time to think about and implement your company's core values and culture is day one! That said, many companies don't. Zappos was seven years old before we launched our 10 Core Values. And Tony [Hsieh] always says he wishes we'd started sooner.

With Zappos Insights, we meet companies where they are. Sometimes a company doesn't have established values, so we start there. Sometimes they have values that were handed down from one person, or they aren't truly committed to them. So, we work from there.

What's one thing an organization can do right now to enhance its culture?

Before you can start with culture, make sure your company has values. Then, start small — don't tackle everything at once. See if other companies, including Zappos, spark any ideas that you can adjust to fit your company's culture and values. For example, many of the groups that attend our training seem to love our anniversary license plate program. That's an easy and visible program you could make your own that has a big impact on employees.

What's one takeaway you hope other businesses learn from Insights?

That your company's culture is a living, evolving thing. Protect it, care for it and be thoughtful about it. And have everyone in the organization own it. This sounds cliché, but it's true. We all spend a ton of our lives at work. Why can't work be a place your employees like to go where they feel fulfilled? If your organization is struggling in this area, we believe Insights can help.


Don't stop here!
To learn more about Zappos, or how to build a strong company culture,
sign up for a Zappos Insights training event or guided tour.

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