Cult of Personality: My Day at Zappos

A big clue that your culture will breed success:  your folks care about each other.  It appears that’s what differentiates superhero HR champions, Zappos, from the rest.  Since SHRM 11 was in Vegas, it seemed a natural fit for attendees (including me) to tour the ground zero of the work-culture sphere.

I had the great pleasure to connect with Zappo’s culture pro, Jamie Naughton, who showed me a fab time within Zappos’ HQ.  My company, Daxko, was lucky to have her as a keynote speaker a few years back at our customer conference.  That engagement was before my Daxko-time, so it was fantastic to put a face to the voice.

Earlier in the day her boss, Mr. Tony Hsieh, was the opening keynote at the conference, so it was interesting to see his words in action.

So what to say?

Zappos’s cultural successes have been widely lauded for some time.  For good reason.  As soon as you walk in you are hit over the head with all the outward perks, and folks, they are cool:   

  • Corporate Barista (not just free coffee but a barista),
  •  Free ice cream breaks
  • Free lunch
  • Corporate movies
  • and (my favorite)… FREE business books for all employees and guests. In an effort to pay it forward and educate—Zappos says if you like the book, just take a copy.  I mean two book shelves dedicated to Godin, Gladwell, Collins,and  of course the Zappos books.  Hardback too.  Sweet.

However, I have to admit, when I first started my tour, I wasn’t feeling it 100%.  It felt too over the top, a bit “actory”, a little “cultish” and little too on cue.  It frankly felt a bit in-authentic.  I can’t say that the tour was the selling point to me on the great culture.

However, in thinking about the collective experience, I have to admit, even I couldn’t resist their superpowers.  Why?  Because, I can only assume, it was real.  It was no put on.  Who knows? You just can’t fake true likeability on a big scale across entire departments for hours.  I mean I guess you can—but faking usually doesn’t produce business results.  Everyone I ran into was friendly, polite, laughed, asked what they could do for me and …..

Seemed interested in each other

Oh, and stayed productive.

No mistake, Zappo’s is not perfect.  In my meeting with Jamie she was open to sharing pain points that all HR departments face no matter how much free coffee is thrown your way. They were not and still are not immune to the multitudes of team member, business and PR issues all high-profile Co’s experience.  But the attitude is, if we have to deal with all of that stuff anyway—why not in an engaging environment.  Work shouldn’t suck.  Fun = Employee Engagement = Customer Engagement = Big Bucks….

 I knew there was truth to the Zappos culture myth when one of the front office staff drove me back to my hotel.  They didn’t have to, but offered, so I took the ride. A lot of you know that drivers can be pissed that they have the rotten job to cart you around.  Not my girl.  I think the best part of the Zappos experience was the 20 minute conversation I had with a 20-something driver about culture, career, work, productivity and optimism.  It was a great way to end the experience. 

So, Zappo’s thank you for a lovely day. I was impressed with the “bite in your bark” and will be interested to see the next 5 years in the Zappos story.  From my one-day experience you do seem to have the substance behind the HR press spin.  Or I may be a schnuck for free coffee. 

Keep it up…

Published by

Dawn Hrdlica-Burke

VP People & Culture/ Talent Consulting at Kinetix. Advisor. Speaker. Writer.

5 thoughts on “Cult of Personality: My Day at Zappos

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