Every company has espoused values, those they include in employee welcome packets and on their website, and lived values, those they actually practice. Companies that eliminate the delta between the two come out on top. This was my overall takeaway from a recent talk by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, who discussed the idea of Delivering Happiness (also the name of his book). Here are some other insights I gathered from this fascinating presentation and my subsequent reflections.

Culture must evolve continuously

Having a great company culture means never resting on one’s laurels, always asking difficult questions, always assuming that pockets of employee dissatisfaction exist and never being satisfied. It takes courage to hold your entire organization up to scrutiny, and it takes an incredible amount of time, effort and analysis to make significant strides in the right direction.

Test the culture fit

Hsieh shared some of the ways the Zappos hiring process evaluates candidates on more than skill set and experience, prioritizing culture fit. For instance, after the candidate has been picked up from the airport, recruiters ask his or her shuttle driver whether or not they were polite! To test commitment to Zappos as a career (and not just another job or stepping stone), the company offers new hires that are one week into training a $2,000 “bonus” to quit—plus the amount they’ve already earned. This counterintuitive deal is accepted by only about 2%-3% of candidates, ensuring that the other 97% are in it for the long run. Perhaps not surprisingly, of Zappos’ 10 Core Values, “Be Humble” is the one that “interviews get stuck on” most often. Humility is not negotiable.

“Committable Core Values” will differ

Hsieh readily acknowledges that not every company must adopt the value system that made his particular company successful, but whether or not they live the values they do adopt is what ultimately matters. The most visible measure of whether companies are truly living their core values is whether they hire and fire based on them, independent of performance.

Give them something greater to work for

Employees must have a “larger vision and greater purpose in their work beyond money or profits” for them to be their best selves in the workplace. Happy employees are best equipped to “deliver happiness” to customers in the form of incredible customer service and doing everything they can to exceed customer expectations. Hsieh mentioned that a Zappos employee recently spent more than eight hours on a single call with a customer. Clearly, this would not have happened had the employee not felt a “higher calling”.

I’ve embedded Hsieh’s presentation below, but understand that it’s not the same without his charisma and storytelling. If you have the chance to see him speak, take it.

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