#Freedomatwork Summit WorldBlu – Blog #2 Zappos; What’s the secret sauce?

Posted: May 18, 2015 in Uncategorized

Zappos. Zappos. Zappos.


There. That’s the clickbait sorted.

But wait a minute. What if you could have a chat to someone from Zappos? What if you could hear about the Holacracy hyperbole but from someone who is SO in tune with the culture in that company, that talking about it to other people is THEIR JOB.

Well you’d pin your ears back, cut through the tripe some people post on social networks (pro or anti the shifts/decisions etc) and ask questions. That’s how you kick off the #freedomatwork summit with the pre-conference workshops if you’re @worldblu

So, what would you do if you needed healthcare and a job?. You’d end up as a Culture Evangelist at Zappos Insight.

Well that’s Jon Wolcke’s story. An entertaining, insightful, energetic presenter – as good as any I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen a lot.

Jon’s story is exemplary of what you expect to hear from Zappos. Jon worked in the contact centre and began to love the help he gave, and as more people got interested in things he did, he got himself tapped on the shoulder as the guide for the tours of the business attraction that was Zappos’ Vegas office. Now he gets to travel the world talking about the culture of Zappos. He’s a self confessed enthusiast for customer service and believes that a good decision on a pair of shoes that fit and make for comfortable wear or improve someone’s confidence, CAN change their lives.

So the Zappos culture then. It’s unique to itself. It’s the thing that gets a lot of discussion though. And Tony Hseih gets a lot of traffic online as the one who sets the culture. But when asked of the CEOs in the room today “Are you the culture alone?” the answer was of course not. Tony did this when looking at the culture of Zappos as they continued to grow. He sensibly put the pen down on defining the culture and the values. He made that everyone’s job.

And the results are now $2bn gross and year on year increase. All because a company puts people and culture as paramount.

Jon’s definition of culture is pretty sweet: Attitudes, Feelings, Values & Behaviours that characterize and inform a group and its members.

One of Zappos is Create fun and a little weirdness. It talks to that recognisable trait of individuals, difference, uniqueness of you.

Jon’s analogy for getting the best from people was this. The way we work now is akin to delivering a powerpoint presentation someone else has produced and with acronyms that you don’t know what they are. Like the version of doing someone else’s work. We need to own our work.

Pursue growth & learning.

Build open & honest relationships with communication.

The secret sauce of Zappos isn’t really a secret. a series of statements that bring into the mix a range of factors that define those attitudes, feelings, values & behaviours.

Deliver WOW through Service
Embrace & Drive Change
Create fun & a little weirdness
Be Adventurous, Creative, & Open-minded
Provide Growth and Learning
Build Open & Honest Relationships with Communication
Build a positive team and family environment
Do more with less
Be passionate and determined
Be humble.

There you go. The secret. You can take it all and apply it if you like. Except that’s not the point is it. It won’t be yours it’s Zappos. The culture of your workplace isn’t some boxed-up thing you can copy. Which is the point Jon was making. Zappos wants to do stuff the Zappos way not the Google way or the WD40 way. They just happen to be insatiably driven to it which is probably why they make headlines at every turn.

So what defines who you are and what you do at Zappos? Not employee satisfaction surveys but a twist to focus on culture reviews and surveys. Culture based recognition is also at play too. SO important is the culture that it is the measure of success and reward.

And the BIG news is holacracy. A system to get rid of the problem of lame managers and instead increase the accountability and choices of the people who do the work.

They key question around holacracy and the Zappos way is: do we serve each other?

It’s an emerging process. It’s not long started to take shape. There’ll be acute interest along the way. And there’ll be a feature or two on this in the UK HR press from me. So watch this space.

Two top tips from Jon

The killer app in customer service is this.

How can I help you? and then

Number one tool for making things great?.


My advice – love or loathe the Zappos stories…

1. Ask your own people “how can I help you?” and 2. Then listen.  And do. Of course.

#freedomatwork awaits. Great start to the event.

Screenshot 2015-05-18 at 06.34.52


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