Like most of you now, I'm fascinated by Zappos. And if by some really strange chance you haven't heard of Zappos yet, well, you will. They are rapidly climbing into the rarefied air occupied by legendary companies, like Nordstrom, Fedex, The American Girl Place, and Starbucks (oops, are they still there?). Stories abound at that altitude, some mythical (return four tires to Nordstrom for a refund?), some exaggerated, most repeatedly repeated (!) in business guru speeches and books.
I very briefly met Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, at a conference early last year after hearing him speak. And while I was impressed by the stories he shared, the thing I wanted to learn more about was the Zappos culture.
Clearly Tony was passionate about culture. Most of his speech centered around it. But unlike most CEO's, who blah, blah, blah about how PEOPLE are they're #1 asset, it appeared Tony actually believes and lives it. But instead of saying, "Our employees are #1," he uses the word Culture. Why? Because, as the company grows and adds employees, there reaches a point where he and others in upper management can't touch everybody. They can't personally tell every player how important they are. And that's why culture becomes the key.
What is the Zappos culture? In Tony's words:
"To me, the ZAPPOS culture emobies many different elements.It's about always looking for new ways to WOW everyone we come in contact with.It's about building relationships where we treat each other like family.It's about teamwork and having fun and not taking ourselves too seriously. It's about growth, both personal and professional. It's about achieving the impossible with fewer people.It's about openness, taking risks, and not being afraid to make mistakes. But most of all, it's about having faith that if we do the right thing then in the long run we will succeed and build something great."
But how do you know if it's working? Do you walk around, observing, watching, listening? Do you read the customer comments and complaints. Do you spend the big bucks with a respected research company, letting them telephone your customers for feedback?
Maybe you do those things. Or maybe you do like Tony and ask the employees. Ask the employees to write a blog about what's going on a Zappos. That's a good thing. But Tony goes one Mother-May-I-Take-One-Giant-Step-Forward by asking the employees to contribute to the annual Zappos Culture Book. In January, Tony sends an email to all Zappos employees inviting them submit a few sentences about what the Zappos culture means to them. Again, in his words:
"Our culture is the combination of everyone's ideas about the culture, so we would like to include everyone's thoughts in this book.
When writing your response, please do not refer to any previous culture books, any training/orientation material, the company handbook, or any other company-published material. We want to hear YOUR thoughts about the company's culture."
As you can see by my picture, I give this a giant thumbs-up! What better way is there to learn how the employees feel about working at Zappos? What better way to teach new hires what Zappos means? And by professionally and publicly publishing this book (yes, you can buy it), what better way to tell the world what you believe in, while also honoring your employees?
The 2008 edition is 482 pages of comments and color photos from employees in Finance, and Customer Loyalty and Training, and Outlets, and Legal, and HR, and…and…
Some of you might ask what this has to do with marketing. It has EVERYTHING to do with marketing. The book is a great marketing tool, but the employees are a greater marketing tool. They touch the customer all the time. As I always say, the Experience is the Marketing. The experience is majorly influenced by the employees. If Zappos can maintain the culture Tony espouses, they will continue to attract the type of employees who will continue to provide the Zappos experience to more and more customers. As Laura C. says on page 108 of the 2008 Culture Book:
"The culture here is just super-positive and will have any new employee feel the sense of WOW their very first day! It's unlike any other place anyone has worked at before. Think of it as the Disneyland of the Internet world. I am so happy to have such a great job!!! Zappos rocks!!!"