The Innovation Blog

Tony Hsieh: Culture is King at Zappos

Posted by Creative Realities on June 16, 2011

Culture is king at Zappos.  Last week at the World Innovation Forum, Tony Hsieh told the audience that there are five things Zappos does to build and cultivate their unique company culture focused on customer service.

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1. Hire for Culture

Are you willing to hire and fire based on cultural fit? For Hsieh, that is the litmus test that determines whether you are truly committed to culture. According to Hsieh, "it doesn't so much matter what your culture is, so long as you commit to it." In fact, to Hsieh the definition of culture is "committable core values." Zappos culture is built around 10 Core Values. In terms of hiring, the question is whether or not you could actually envision yourself working well with the candidate on a personal and professional level. One trick Hsieh uses to determine this is to ask the limo driver who picked the applicant up at the airport how he or she was treated on the ride over. For more on how Hsieh thinks about hiring and the questions he asks, check out this Xconomy post

2. Five Weeks of Training

All new hires at Zappos undergo the exact same training as the call center reps. First they learn about the company history. Next they receive customer service training. Then they take real calls, from real customers. Everyone does this. During peak seasons, employees form other departments will even help with the increased volume of customer service calls. According to Hsieh "if we are serious about customer service, then it shouldn't just be a department. It should be the whole company."

3. $4,000 Offer

After completing training, every new hire is offered $4,000 to quit. Yes, you read that right.  Zappos tells trainees "we will pay for the training you've received, and give you an additional $4,000 if you quit right now." Why would a company do this? As Hsieh put it "we don't want employees that are just there for a paycheck. We want employees who are there because the culture is the right fit for them." Now that is putting your money where your mouth is.

4. The Culture Book

Each year, Zappos asks employees to write a few paragraphs about what Zappos' culture means to them.  Employees are encouraged to share thoughts, stories, and photos that speak to their personal experiences. You can request your own free copy of the culture book by emailing (include physical address). For additional reading, Hsieh also recommends two books: Good to Great, the famous business staple by Jim Collins, and Tribal Leadership, which seeks to show leaders how to create a strong company culture.

5. Twitter 

Zappos even uses Twitter to help build their culture. Most large companies worry about their employees using social networking sites during work hours; Zappos encourages it. Why? First, because Zappos employees use Twitter to update one another on what they are working on, which increases communication, engagement and collaboration.  Second, Twitter allows Zappos employees to listen and connect directly with their customers. At a company that is all about customer service, this is a big deal. Hsieh advocates for transparency in all aspects of the business, and Twitter is part of that philosophy. For more on how Zappos uses social media, check out this ReadWriteWeb post.  

You can see the slideshare of Tony's full presentation.

By Chris Dolan

Topics: Chris Dolan, culture, Collaboration, leadership