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The Boomer Bulletin - 2011
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What We Can Learn from Zappos

Posted By Jon Hubbard, Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Zappos.com is an online store and apparel shop.  It was started in 1999 and in 
2009 was acquired by Amazon in a deal valued at over $1.2 billion.  Zappos has set itself apart from other online retailers by having a passionate focus for customer service.  Most online retailers go after having the lowest price or the largest selection, but Zappos chose to focus on customer service because they felt it was the biggest value they could offer their customers.

Through Zappos’ insane (or not so insane) focus on customer service, they have created a company culture that is known around the world. Courses have been developed, books have been written and companies have been started with the goal of communicating and replicating the unique and profitable culture Zappos has created.

In this article, I will highlight 3 key aspects of the Zappos culture with the purpose of getting us to think about how we can apply similar aspects to our firm.

Your culture is your brand

Building a brand today is much different than building a brand 60 years ago.  In the past, the executives of a company would meet and decide how they wanted to brand and position the company and they would then spend a lot of money on advertising to communicate the message. While marketing and advertising are still important, they do have limitations.  Zappos believes the best way to build your brand for the long term is to develop a strong culture. Once the culture is established, other areas of the business such as customer service, building a great reputation and attracting passionate employees will happen as a result.  Zappos has 10 core values that shape their company culture:
  1. Deliver WOW Through Service
  2. Embrace and Drive Change
  3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do More With Less
  9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble
To learn more about each of Zappos’ core values and how they shape their culture, please click here.  I do not think that every CPA should have these core values.  Your firm should be unique and should have a unique set of core values that everyone is passionate about.

What steps can your firm take to make the core values truly influence company culture?

Creating a passionate team

Zappos goes to great strides to have employees that are passionate about their 10 core values.  Without passionate employees, the company culture will sputter and will not be a competitive advantage.  Zappos starts with the hiring process.  They hold two sets of interviews, one interview focused on technical ability and experience.  The second interview focuses on the culture and the 10 core values.  Once an applicant becomes a new-hire, they go through a 4-week training process at Zappos call center, no matter what their job title is. During the first 2-weeks the new-hire is educated on company history, importance of customer service, and company culture philosophy. During the last 2-weeks, the new-hire will takes calls from customers. At the end of the training, Zappos makes an offer to the entire training class. They offer everyone $2,000 to quit (plus what they’ve already earned during the training). Not surprisingly, less than 1% take the offer. Although this process is a little unconventional, it helps ensure the company is being strengthened with each hire.

Also, Zappos regularly measures the strength of their culture through regular employee surveys that asks employees whether they agree or disagree with the below statements:
  • I believe that the company has a higher purpose beyond just profits
  • My role at Zappos has a real purpose – it is more than just a job
  • I feel that I am in control of my career path and that I am progressing in my personal and professional development at Zappos
  • I consider my co-workers to be like my family and friends
  • I am very happy with my job
What steps can your firm take to ensure the hiring and retention of passionate employees?

Create fun and a little weirdness

How good would a company culture be if it wasn’t fun and a little weird?  Not super weird, just a little unconventional to add some humor to everyone’s day.  Zappos celebrates and embraces diversity and each person’s individuality.  They want their people to express their personality in their work.  They feel strongly about this because they feel their employees will perform best when they can be themselves.

A great example of Zappos employees creating fun and a little weirdness is their finance department has a weekly parade called "Random Acts of Kindness”.  They march down the hallway to 3 employees desks and present them with a gift, put a hat on them and take their picture.  

A great side effect of encouraging fun and a little weirdness is that it encourages creativity and innovation.  When employees are more engaged with their work the company as a whole becomes more innovative. 

What steps can your firm take to create fun and a little weirdness?

Conclusion

Although Zappos is in an entirely different industry than we are, I believe we can learn from what they have built and implemented at their company.  It is important that we consider what our firm’s purpose is and take steps to building a culture that supports it. No two companies are exactly the same nor should the cultures. Without fun and a little weirdness, we won’t get too far.



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