Who owns culture? Culture as a corporate differentiator
Who Owns Culture?
Over the past few days we posted a few articles on culture. To the question, “Who owns culture?” applied to society or to a nation, in a free society like the United States, one might say that “no one” (no person and no group) owns Culture.
That is, in a free society, people are free to read the culture, and re/write the culture for this and the next generation. For all we know, this is nothing more than a random walk into an uncertain future. For people that take the long-view, this scares them. (Read a related article.)
To the question, “Who owns culture?” applied to a corporation, the answer is easy. The culture is owned by the CEO and the Board of Directors.
Just about every major corporation has a page on their web site dedicated to “espousing” the corporate vision and core values of the corporate culture. I say “espousing” the corporate values insofar as sometimes much of this is Public Relations for consumption by investors and customers.
The real test of corporate values is behavior. You only need to look at the behavior of Enron, WorldCom and other poster children of corporate corruptionto to see what can go wrong despite exemplary stagecraft of corporate value systems.
Zappos.com is a real success story. Started by Tony Hsieh in his early 20’s, Tony is smarter than the average CEO about corporate culture. In fact, Zappos is built around living the corporate culture that it espouses.
Perhaps Tony’s emphasis on corporate culture was based on the previous company he founded, LinkExchange. In one interview, Tony said that they hired people with the right skill sets and experience but were not culture fits – then the whole company went down from there. Asked what he would do over when he started Zappos, Hsieh replied that he would “hire more slowly and fire more quickly”.
Paying new employees $2,000 to quit
Zappos is a company that wants to make sure it has the right people. Zappos is unique in its offer to new employees. After a few weeks on the job, Zappos pays people to quit – no questions asked. They started out paying $200 to quit. Strange thing was that this was incrementally raised to $2,000. Tony Hsieh looked at the decreasing number of people who took the offer and continued to up the ante. In some sense, it shows the value of the culture and the level of desire for new employees to work for Zappos and be part of that culture.
The book – a great entrepreneurial story
This month, June 2010, Tony Hsieh’s book was published – Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose
From Publishers Weekly
CEO Hsieh offers a compelling account of his transformation from callow Harvard student entrepreneur through his years as a dot-com wunderkind to the creator of a formidable brand. Interest might flag as Hsieh, fresh off selling his Internet company LinkExchange to Yahoo in 1999 for $265 million, kvetches about lacking fulfillment. But as the tech boom bursts, and Hsieh confronts his dwindling investments, his story comes alive. As the funding for his incubator companies dries up and one of his most promising startups, Zappos.com, a shoe retailer, seems doomed, Hsieh blossoms into a mature businessperson, slashing expenses and presciently making customer service the essence of the company’s brand. The story becomes suspenseful as Hsieh recounts the stress of operating in survival mode, liquidating his assets to fund the company in its darkest days and seeking out an 11th-hour loan. By the time Zappos is acquired by Amazon for more than $1.2 billion in 2009, Hsieh and his team had built a unique corporate culture dedicated to employee empowerment and the promise of delivering happiness though satisfied customers and a valued workforce. An uplifting tale of entrepreneurial success, personal growth, and redemption.
This book is a quick read and a good entrepreneurial story chronicling the trials and tribulations of a startup as well as the culture at Zappos. For Zappos, culture is the differentiator
They can copy our images, our shipping, and the overall look of our web site, but they cannot copy our people, our culture, or our service.
So, first, the book is a recommended read.
Second, take a look at Zappos core values and see if they make sense to you. I wonder how many companies give only lip service to “core values” but actual behavior tells a different story.
Zappos core values (summary)
1. Deliver WOW Through Service
To WOW, you must differentiate yourself, which means doing something a little unconventional and innovative. You must do something that’s above and beyond what’s expected. And whatever you do must have an emotional impact on the receiver. We are not an average company, our service is not average, and we don’t want our people to be average. We expect every employee to deliver WOW.
2. Embrace and Drive Change
We must all learn not only to not fear change, but to also embrace it enthusiastically, and perhaps even more importantly, to encourage and drive it. We must always plan for and be prepared for constant change.
We are ever evolving. If we want to continue to stay ahead of our competition, we must continually change and keep them guessing. They can copy our images, our shipping, and the overall look of our web site, but they cannot copy our people, our culture, or our service. As long as embracing constant change is a part of our culture, they will not be able to evolve as fast as we can.
3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
Our company culture is what makes us successful, and in our culture, we celebrate and embrace our diversity and each person’s individuality. We want people to express their personality in their work. To outsiders, that might come across as inconsistent or weird. But the consistency is in our belief that we function best when we can be ourselves. We want the weirdness in each of us to be expressed in our interactions with each other and in our work.
One of the side effects of encouraging weirdness is that it encourages people to think outside the box and be more innovative. When you combine a little weirdness with making sure everyone is also having fun at work, it ends up being a win-win for everyone: Employees are more engaged in the work that they do, and the company as a whole becomes more innovative.
4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
We do not want people to be afraid to take risks and make mistakes. We believe if people aren’t making mistakes, then that means they’re not taking enough risks.
We never want to become complacent and accept the status quo just because that’s the way things have always been done. We should always be seeking adventure and having fun exploring new possibilities.
By having the freedom to be creative in our solutions, we end up making our own luck. We approach situations and challenges with an open mind.
Sometimes our sense of adventure and creativity causes us to be unconventional in our solutions (because we have the freedom to think outside the box), but that’s what allows us to rise above and stay ahead of the competition.
5. Pursue Growth and Learning
It’s important to constantly challenge and stretch yourself and not be stuck in a job where you don’t feel like you are growing or learning.
We believe that inside every employee is more potential than even the employee himself/herself realizes. Our goal is to help employees unlock that potential. But it has to be a joint effort: you have to want to challenge and stretch yourself in order for it to happen.
6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
Fundamentally, we believe that openness and honesty make for the best relationships because that leads to trust and faith.
We value strong relationships in all areas: with managers, direct reports, customers (internal and external), vendors, business partners, team members, and co-workers.
Strong, positive relationships that are open and honest are a big part of what differentiates Zappos from most other companies. Strong relationships allow us to accomplish much more than we would be able to otherwise.
A key ingredient in strong relationships is to develop emotional connections. It’s important to always act with integrity in your relationships, to be compassionate, friendly, loyal, and to make sure that you do the right thing and treat your relationships well. The hardest thing to do is to build trust, but if the trust exists, you can accomplish so much more.
7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
The best leaders are those who lead by example and are both team followers as well as team leaders. We believe that, in general, the best ideas and decisions are made from the bottom up, meaning by those who are on the front lines and closest to the issues and/or the customers. The role of a manager is to remove obstacles and enable his/her direct reports to succeed. This means the best leaders are servant-leaders. They serve those they lead.
The best team members take initiative when they notice issues so that the team and the company can succeed. The best team members take ownership of issues and collaborate with other team members whenever challenges arise.
The best team members have a positive influence on one another and everyone they encounter. They strive to eliminate any kind of cynicism and negative interactions. They strive to create harmony with each other and with everyone else they come in contact with.
We believe that the best teams are those that not only work with each other but also interact with each other outside the office environment. Many of the company’s best ideas have been the direct result of informal interactions outside of the office. For example, the idea for our culture book came about from a casual discussion outside the office.
We are more than just a team though — we are a family. We watch out for each other, care for each other, and go above and beyond for each other because we believe in each other and we trust each other. We work together, but we also play together. Our bonds go far beyond the typical “co-worker” relationships found at most other companies.
8. Do More With Less
We believe in operational excellence and realize that there is always room for improvement in everything we do. This means that our work is never done. In order to stay ahead of the competition (or would-be competition), we need to continuously innovate as well as make incremental improvements to our operations, always striving to make ourselves more efficient, always trying to figure out how to do something better. We use mistakes as learning opportunities.
We must never lose our sense of urgency in making improvements. We must never settle for “good enough” because good is the enemy of great. While our goal is to become a great company, we also want to become the greatest service company in the world. We set and exceed our own high standards, constantly raising the bar for competitors and for ourselves.
9. Be Passionate and Determined
Passion is the fuel that drives us and our company forward.
We value passion, determination, perseverance, and the sense of urgency.
We are inspired because we believe in what we are doing and where we are going. We don’t take “no” or “that’ll never work” for an answer because if we had, then Zappos would have never started in the first place.
Passion and determination are contagious. We believe in having a positive and optimistic (but realistic) attitude about everything we do because we realize that this inspires others to have the same attitude.
There is excitement in knowing that everyone you work with has a tremendous impact on a larger dream and vision, and you can see that impact day in and day out.
10. Be Humble
We believe that no matter what happens we should always be respectful of everyone.
While we celebrate our individual and team successes, we are not arrogant nor do we treat others differently from how we would want to be treated. Instead, we carry ourselves with a quiet confidence because we believe that, in the long run, our character will speak for itself.