Creating a High Energy Culture the Zappos Way

There’s a lot of talk about culture and happiness in the working world these days – but in tough economic times – do people really care about happiness?  Or is it just a throw-back to the good old days – when we had free flowing credit, bankers we could trust and journalists who didn’t listen to our voicemails?  Shouldn’t our people just be happy they have jobs?  As managers and leaders – we have to spend more time focused on our shareholders … don’t we?

I was interested then to read Tony Hsieh’s book Delivering Happiness – about the company he founded:  Recently bought by Amazon for just under $1billion, Zappos is seen as one of the big success stories to come from the dotcom bubble of the early nineties.

The book is fascinating – and is a real step by step guide to how a company focused on staff can lead to great customer service and huge financial rewards.  Like many of the online start-up companies – some of the things that happen in the office may seem a bit zany to us in the UK – but the things that really stick with you are how they amaze their customers.

Some of the ideas I particularly enjoyed were about the call centres – no scripts, no time limits – just making sure that the customer got great service – their longest recorded call is five hours!  After spending a significant amount of time today trying to get hold of someone to talk about my broadband service – that sounds very good indeed!  I also enjoyed the idea that all new starters (whatever their role) go through a four week training programme – with two weeks of taking calls from customers.

Much of Zappos’s culture came from Tony Hsieh’s unhappy experience at a previous start-up he formed – he watched as the easy early days when everyone knew each other and the culture “just happened” transformed into an environment that didn’t sit right with him.

That formative experience stayed with him and drove him to focus on the culture at Zappos. However – lots of the ideas for the culture and values of the company came directly from the staff themselves.  While Tony facilitated the culture and nurtured it – he did not have all the answers.

Often people talk to us about how to improve the culture in their organisation.  We’ve found that working on strengths together – celebrating what’s great about ourselves and us as a team – can really start to move the culture forward.  When we stop looking at what’s broken and wrong and start to look at what’s great and what’s going to get even better.

So you don’t need to roller-skate in the office, hold doughnut eating competitions or bring your pet to work to create a great culture for your people. We’ve found that when managers and leaders start to focus on what’s great in their teams, their people rise to the occasion and customer satisfaction and profits follow that same pattern.