Written by CultureCon Co-Founder, Zach Blumenfeld
It’s no secret that I spend a fair amount of time in Las Vegas between work and trips with family and friends. Although I lost ($22) this time, it was one of the most inspiring trips I have taken. At CultureCon 2018 I met Ryo, a fellow #CultureGeek and The Culture Maestro at Zappos. One evening after the conference in Madison I was able to hear his story and learn more about the Zappos company culture. It was an awesome culture chat and it enticed me to visit the Zappos HQ on my next trip to Vegas.
Values - Front & Center
Zappos' values are present throughout their physical building in downtown Las Vegas. These values encourage people to "create fun and a little weirdness", "be adventurous, creative, and open-minded", and “do more with this.” Zappos values are more than writing on the walls. You can sense and feel these values just by talking with employees, either in person or on the phone through their WOW customer service. They’ve created a company culture that promotes their values by putting their employees first, and this translates into a customer experience second to none.
Ball Pits to Nap Time
Most of us have heard stories about the Zappos culture, but to get the chance to experience it first hand took it to a new level. From conference rooms in ball pits to nap time surrounded by an aquarium, I felt like I was back in preschool - some of the best days of my life. *A big shout out to Tina, Jerry, and the rest of the Gan HaYeled Preschool team here in Madison. I still carry my “Zipper Club” card with me.* The physical stuff is cool, but intrinsic motivation is truly how we maximize our teams and Make What You Do Matter. When you mix intrinsic motivation with a sprinkle of extrinsic motivation, it is extremely powerful.
Pursue Growth and Learning
This is one of their core values and from the stories that were shared this is definitely true. At Zappos you get the sense that people are motivated beyond the paycheck or the awesome work perks. They are intrinsically motivated to make an impact in the company and in the lives of others. Employees are encouraged to learn, try new things, and even fail. Fail and fail fast. Something more companies need to embrace to help inspire innovation.
Zappos has officially been using Holacracy since 2014. Holacracy is a way of structuring and running your organization that replaces the conventional management hierarchy. Instead of operating top-down, power is distributed throughout the organization, and if done properly it gives individuals and teams more freedom to self-manage. Employees become leaders of their roles and followers of others’. Everyone is responsible for understanding their role, how it fits with the roles of others on the team, and how that constantly changes. Everyone is responsible for communicating clearly and efficiently. Everyone trusts everyone. In a perfect world of holacracy this helps companies move quicker. Employees can’t just do whatever they want, rather they have a clear understanding of their responsibilities and work the way they think is best to get the job done. Although, there are many critics of this model, it seems to be working well for the Zappos culture and other companies working with holacracy. It’s a model that can be easily replicated and you definitely need to hire the right people.
What if I paid you to leave your company?
Would you take it? I bet 70% of you would. Getting paid is historically one of the strongest motivators to get up and go to work in the morning. Things are changing. Our world is changing. Work is more than a paycheck. Working for purpose, meaning, and fulfillment is the new paycheck. Zappos started an initiative a few years back actually paying people to leave the company. You don’t want to work here? Fine. Here is a few thousand dollars severance to go find a job that makes you happy. After an extensive onboarding process they throw a huge graduation party, which most make it to. Before graduation, they are again offered that severance package to leave the company. This is a way to get people out of the organization who don’t want to be there and keep the ones that are working for more than a paycheck, working for a shared purpose. If you turn down that money it’s another sign of intrinsic motivation working at it’s finest. Zappos spending more money upfront to solidify their hires, saves a ton of money in the long run. Turnover is expensive!
A lot of companies struggle with getting started on a culture shift. It is a massive never-ending project, but you have to start somewhere. Start somewhere and start small. One concept implemented in the Zappos culture is placing break rooms on every other floor. This forces people from different areas to meet each other randomly throughout the day. These "random encounters" are a great way to breakdown departmental silos which we see so often in the workplace.
If you’re a entrepreneur like me, it’s very hard to practice a “work life balance”. But, I love what I do and wouldn’t trade it for the world. Ryo and I discussed the concept of Work Life Integration because when you love what you do it doesn’t feel like work. Many of us go our entire lives without finding that, but it’s something we need to seek out and not settle until it’s found. My goal in my work is to help make work more meaningful, fulfilling, and fun - for everyone. After seeing the Zappos company culture in action, I can say it is living and breathing just that. I sensed the passion in every employee I talked with. The holacracy model is not for everyone and that is fine. It works within the Zappos culture and the people they carefully hire to join their team. But take away the office perks, the physical stuff, and there is still something special about Zappos company culture. Ryo sums it up best. I asked him what is the one thing about Zappos’ culture that drives him to come to work each and everyday? He said: “It’s the people. At Zappos we can be ourselves and because my fellow Zapponians are genuine people, the happiness, laughter and even the smiles are authentic, that becomes contagious and energizes me.”