Culture is King at Zappos

My interest in making a personal visit to Zappos grew from a suggestion in Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose a book I thoroughly enjoyed.  

2011.2.28 Zappos Van

I wanted to see for myself how the Zappos culture makes typical business objectives such as profitability a by-product of a workplace where everyone enjoys spending their time.

On a recent post just prior to my speaking event in Vegas I promised to share what I learned from my visit to Zappos headquarters in nearby Henderson. Here it is.

A Brief History of Zappos

Before I get to the tour, let me share a brief history of Zappos.

They are an online shoe and merchandise retailer that grew from a start-up in a San Francisco apartment to become a billion dollar company within a decade, while also being consistently ranked as one of the top companies to work for.

This was accomplished by making good business decisions, and adhering to a set of core values that everyone is expected to commit to. Incidentally, Zappos was sold to Amazon about two years ago, yet, continues to operate independently to maintain their unique culture.

Zappos Core Values

  1. Deliver WOW Though Customer 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

In Delivering Happiness, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh says, "Many companies have core values, but they really don't commit to them.  We believe it's important to come up with core values you can commit to – meaning you're willing to hire and fire based upon them."

He goes on to say, "If you get the culture right, most of the other stuff will fall into place on its own."

The Zappos Tour in Pictures 

Just a reminder that you can enlarge any of these images by clicking on them.

The free tour is easily arranged online, where you can also arrange for a ride from your hotel or the airport – and back. This is also free, just as expedited shipped is when ordering from Zappos.  Hmm .. sounds to me like a consistent focus on Delivering WOW Through Service – Core Value No. 1.

Immediately upon arrival at Zappos headquarters, you feel the energy – there's a buzz, from staff and visitors alike.  It's not a fancy entryway, which is precisely what makes it so very much Zappos.  The idea is that everyone walks through the same door – an effort to Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit – Core Value No. 6.

2011.2.28 Zappos Jeff
Right there in the waiting area is the Zappos library.  It sports an impressive list of titles that everyone is encouraged to check out to Pursue Growth & Learning – Core Value No. 5.

  2011.2.28 Zappos Bookshelf

Spend just a few minutes with any Zappos employee and you immediately notice they value the freedom to be themselves – Creating Fun and a Little Weirdness – Core Value No. 3.

Walking down virtually every corridor you notice the rows of cubicles have a street name that mirrors the actual street names in the Las Vegas area.

2011.2.28 Zappos Street Signs
This is a cool way of easily locating your workspace for one of your co-workers. Another way is through personalization, with streamers being one of the favorite methods.  

Streamers are big at Zappos.

2011.2.28 Zappos Streamers
So is Rick Springfield.

2011.2.28 Zappos Rick
And so is choosing a desk chair that fits your style or otherwise adds a little bounce to your day.

2011.2.28 Zappos Ball Chair
Is this unusual work environment productive?  Just look at these photos – everyone is working.

There are also plenty of reminders that encourage awareness for Being Passionate and Determined – Core Value No. 9 – when it comes to serving the customer better than the day before, such as this chart that tracks call response times.

2011.2.28 Zappos Calls
Being passionate
about QR and 2d codes, I was pleased to learn that Zappos is planning to make this technology a vital part of the tour.  For the time being, the HR department is using a code to extend a suggestion for joining the Zappos team.

You never know where you will find that ideal new team member, so it pays to be Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded – Core Value No. 4

2011.2.28 Zappos QR
The Zappos tours are the domain of the Zappos Insights team. In addition to the basic tour which is free, you can also pay a little extra for some one-on-one time with a member of the Insights team to get answers to specific questions.

Jonathan Wolkse was our expert that helped me to clarify once and for all that there are absolutely no rules with regards to Zappos employees using Twitter - or any of the other social networks.  I find that to be an amazing validation of the power of core values.

Social media has been a powerful tool in the growth of Zappos, and their culture is what ensures that what is shared supports the well-being of the company.  No attorneys are needed to craft complex privacy policies.  As Jonathan put it, everyone is simply advised to - be present and be yourself.

That advice sure seems to echo Core Value No 10 – Be Humble – my personal favorite. 

  2011.2.28 Zappos Wordle

I'll tell you one thing, if you take this tour it will change you. The culture is that powerful.

How about you?  Is culture king at your organization?  Could you accomplish your business objectives more readily by focusing less on rules and more on culture? 

Leave a comment below.

And free to share this with your friends by clicking on the Facebook Like button, or considering subscribing to this blog – just go to the subscribe tab. 

Until tomorrow,  Jeff 

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  1. Companies such as Zappos have proven that culture is key to an energetic and successful work environment. I have heard of these amazing work cultures before through examples such as Google and Zappos. I think it is a brilliant idea, but how do you maintain the balance between a fun, energetic culture and an efficient, productive work place? This balance seems to tread on a thin line, so what makes Google and Zappos so successful? Why can’t other companies figure this culture balance out?

  2. Katie – What I noticed at Zappos is places a huge emphasis on those core values – they are literally the framework for their job applications, the postings for job openings, etc.

    So, it is clear that they really do hire and fire based on them. And my experience meeting dozens of Zapponians is that they live those values every day.

    Imagine turning hundreds of employees loose on Twitter without any guidance at all – that’s trusting your employees and the company culture. 🙂


    • Jeff, do you know who came up with the core values? Was it the founder or a group of people? Who defines the behaviors around those values? How are those behaviors selected?

      • Jeff Korhan says:

        Guillermo – Good question. It’s all discussed in the book Delivering Happiness (link in the article).

        The process started with the CEO who then realized he needed to involved everyone. That led to a list of 37 core values.

        That list was eventually pared down to ten values that everyone could commit to -with the emphasis on commitment.

        They feel one of their most important values in terms of hiring is “be humble” – one that emphasizes long-term growth.

  3. I like this site and it is very informative and hence people who will come across this site will gain lot of information about it. I am very to being glad to be part of this site! I will visit this site in future too.

  4. Thanks for being here 🙂



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