When it comes to great culture companies Zappos leads the way. Tony Hsieh founded the on-line shoe business after selling his previous company because he said he didn’t like its people. Hsieh was determined to build a new company with a great culture.


Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh

He has since built Zappos to become an overwhelming success, recently placed in the prestigious Forbes top 100 best place to work companies. The company has grown quickly and has been a financial fairytale,  resulting in it being bought by Amazon boss Jeff Bezos in 2009. The CEO of Amazon said that when he sees a company that has a great culture like Zappos he goes weak at the knees, and he did to the tune of $1.2 billion which is what he paid for the company  in their largest acquisition to date.

Tony Hsieh has since remained as the company’s CEO and continues to build a unique culture with his recent adoption of holacracy –  when a company’s people function through  ‘self-management’ as opposed to the traditional hierarchical structure of leadership and management making decisions.

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Jetts team about to take the Zappos culture tour

Zappos are also famous for opening up their doors to anyone who wants to take a tour of the company and understand how they achieve such culture success. In March 2015 I decided to pay them a visit whilst I was on my way to Los Angeles to a conference with a couple of my team members. I was hoping to get a glimpse behind the magic curtain and they didn’t disappoint. I learned a lot that day about building a great culture but these were my 3 biggest ah ha’s

1.Create an environment that encourages people to get to know each other

The Zappos offices are located in down town Las Vegas and are part of a regeneration program for the city. They have even paid for the highway exit ramp to be built that takes their workers into the grounds. Their offices are purpose built in the shape of a cylinder with offices around the outside and an open air area in the middle where people meet to socialise. Kitchen areas and breakout zones are located in places that forces people to move around the building as opposed to staying within their own departments. Tony says he has designed the building this way to make sure teams integrate and don’t stay in cliques. Teams have breaks and lunches with different co-workers everyday depending on which place they choose. This breaks down inter-department barriers and helps with communication across the whole company.

How many opportunities do you provide for cross departmental socialising?  At Jetts we have since implemented a number of initiatives that encourage our teams to spend time with those they rarely see as part of their normal working day. Since doing this we have really seen an improvement in our culture across the whole Office.


2.Promote your benefits to your people

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Employee benefits banner at Zappos

At Zappos everywhere we went we saw posters and banners advertising to teams their benefits and entitlements.  Most employees don’t have a full understanding of what benefits they are entitled to so don’t fully appreciate their value. By promoting a long list of benefits in the office environment their teams are constantly reminded about how well Zappos looks after them and reinforces their decision to stay. It works like an internal marketing campaign.

Most of us do this for our external customer. so why wouldn’t you do it for your internal customer? Even if the benefit doesn’t directly impact them they can still appreciate it being offered to others, it all goes towards promoting what the company offers employees.

3.Document and celebrate your success

Every year Zappos produce a culture book that documents all that has been achieved in the previous year. Every single employee contributes something into the book. in their own words and handwriting. The book is then crammed full of photos and content of all the events that have taken place as well as their financial growth and other achievements.  The book is of very high quality and every employee receives one to immortalise the part they played in the company for that year.

Having the opportunity to reflect back on what has been achieved is a powerful motivator for teams and allows them to feel the company’s appreciation. We have since published our first culture book and are busy working on our second for this year’s results.

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Copy of Zappos annual culture book

Through the three hour tour we were given many valuable insights into the inner workings of Zappos. Their culture tours are free and they even pick you up from your hotel in their own bus, so if you are ever passing through Las Vegas I highly recommend you book yourself in for an inspiring visit.

For more articles on culture visit https://culturehacker.com.au



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