Starbucker on Leadership
My first encounter with Zappos came a few years ago when my wife was looking for a particular pair of boots.
I had overheard a remark by a friend of mine that praised their “quick service and free shipping”, so I passed it along to her.
We haven’t bought a pair of shoes from anyone else since.
What has always set this particular retailer apart for me has been its attitude towards its customers- it’s apparent on their website, and with their people. They just seemed to “get it” – making me happy was important to them.
And the free shipping (and on the return side, thank you) didn’t hurt either.
Of course, this appreciation as a customer led me to want to look a little harder at this company, as a businessperson and leader, to find their “secret sauce”.
I didn’t have to look any farther than the CEO’s office.
Zappos is led by someone who had the audacity to put the pursuit of happiness ahead of market share, inventory turnover, margins – heck, ahead of everything. Happiness is Zappos “raison d’etre”.
That person is Tony Hsieh, and you can find an excellent piece on him in the latest edition of Inc., written by Max Chafkin.
Profiled as someone “widely regarded as one of the most innovative Internet marketers of all time“, he has created a very successful company in a seemingly unorthodox way – passionately and relentlessly promoting a culture of “personal emotional connections” with customers and with each other.
He had been through the ups and downs of high-tech entrepreneurship, and wanted to create a place that would be built to last, celebrating the life fulfilling potential of a happy workplace.
Hsieh was convinced that if he was successful in building the right culture, the profits would come – and come they have.
This culture construction had several key components:
- A collaborative summation and discussion of key company values, assembled into a book each new employee receives (this book has grown to 480 pages since each employee is asked to make a contribution)
- Pervasive transparency of all key goals & objectives, both short-term and long-term (i.e. you can’t miss them because they are plastered all over the building)
- Innovative and comprehensive training programs that emphasize knowledge of company history and values (they are famous for offering $2,000 for new trainees to leave the company)
- Emphasis on the social aspect of the workplace (they actually require their managers to spend 10 to 20 percent of their time “goofing off” with the people they mange)
- Confidence and trust in the employee’s ability to creatively, intelligently, and efficiently please customers with a minimum of process and structure (for example, there is no scripting, and they do not track call times)
Hsieh intends to expand this formula beyond shoes – he’s mentioned hotels and banking as possibilities – and I suspect he’ll continue to find success, as long as his culture constructs continue to be applied.
That’s the big if – as other similar visionaries have learned (Howard Schultz of Starbucks is a great example), the outside pressure to put profits first can be very, very strong.
I hope he can resist that pressure, for he’s showing us a better way forward.- one that blends people, passions, purpose, and profit.