May 22

2011

18 observations from Zappos

1 comment
Free Companies
18 observations from Zappos

God knows where it all started!? Perhaps Maverick! and Semco opened the door of freedom at work for me. Then a friend of mine sent me a link to a youtube video about some weird company that pays its people to leave. That was actually my first encounter with Zappos. I loved it! About a year later Zappos’ CEO Tony Hsieh’s book Delivering Happiness came along. To translate and publish it into Czech felt like the right thing to do (see Stesti doruceno). By the way, it is coming out next week! Today I experienced Zappos on my own through one of their famous tours they give to public. And while sitting at Las Vegas airport, waiting for a delayed Southwest flight to San Francisco I thought it would be worth of sharing some of the observations:

1. Pick up – There was a complimentary shuttle waiting for us in the airport in the morning. Jerry, “the mayor” of Zappos came to look for us and it felt like an old friend is picking us up. What a friendly and joyful guy! Thanks a lot Jerry! It was great meeting you.

2. Free tour – The fact of the free tours where the company brings you in, shows you almost everything inside out while you may take pictures or videos of anything you like is just amazing. By the way this applies for visitors from press too. They can come and talk to anyone about anything. What a contrast with most companies out there that “do not allow tours” even to its employees!?

3. Giving Library - I love the Zappos’ concept of a giving library. Any guest gets a copy of Tony’s Delivering Happiness and/or a Culture book. You could even grab one of their other books (They have about fifty other books on happiness, leadership, entrepreneurship,… in their library). Actually anyone at Zappos can “borrow” a book without anybody controlling it. What a cool way to spread the philosophy!

4. Culture book – Talking about a Culture book, Zappos has been writing one every year since 2004, I believe. It is filled with pictures of the culture in action as well as Zappos’ people views on it. Unedited (for errors only). Fantastic tool to really work on a culture of an organization. By the way, anyone can get a free copy!

5. Values all around – “What you see is what you get”, right!? They understand this piece of wisdom at Zappos beautifully. At least this is how it feels when you see their values being reminded wherever you turn. Literally, the walls, the desks, up in the air (above the desks), on the floor, even in the bathroom.

6. From bore to passion – For me, perhaps the most amazing realization is how on earth could somebody turn the most boring job (that is what many people think of  a “call center operator”) into a fascinating mission. What an inspiration to all other companies that outsource it either to call centers overseas or to machines. Awesome!

7. Clean desk policy – At my ex-employer (GE) we had a policy that was called: “Two personal objects on each desk only!” At Zappos I found the following sign: “If your company has a clean desk policy, the company is nuts and you are nuts to stay there”. And being true to this motto the desks at Zappos were everything but clean :-).

8. Nap room – I know countless companies do it. But it is always fun to bump into one of those, sort of a dark rooms, filled with sofas and couches. We actually woke up a fellow. Sorry, man!

9. Meeting rooms – Coming from Prague I am used to pretty sterile working interiors. The more excited I got after peeking into so many cool meeting rooms here at Vegas. You name it! Children’s room, chateau like room, Chinese style room, room filled with skateboards. You name it.

10. Let’s celebrate! – Cruising through the headquarters’ corridors it often seems like Zappos does nothing but celebrates. Traces of it you find virtually everywhere you look – t-shirts, photos, toys, trophies, diplomas, certificates, flowers,…

11. Hierarchy – I always loved coming to IKEA offices in Prague with absolutely no clue who the CEO or a junior assistant is. The same here. It seems there are no visible symbols of hierarchy. For example the CEO, Tony Hsieh as well as the other top guys have their desks in the call center in the open space and I did not hear about any other typical corporate privileges.

12. Dress code - It felt great watching all the styles, colors, tatoos, bare feet or jewelry that Zappos’ people wear…  Not a long time ago a friend of mine, a top executive in one of the Czech banks complained about tightening a dress code in their company. She can’t wear slippers anymore, she said.

13. All hands meeting – there is a meeting held four times a year for all employees to go. That is the only time that no one takes the calls. Otherwise the Zappos’ call center operates 24/7. The interesting thing is everybody (all over the globe) can log in and be at the meeting – see live stream All hands meeting. Zappos’ transparency is simply killing.

14. Top 10 facts – I noticed there is a sheet of paper above some desks stating the person’s top talents and/or facts. Looks like an interesting way to let others know what your key features are, isn’t it?

15. On-site services – This may not be too unusual but I loved it anyway. The company tries to organize certain services for the people (see the photo). Actually it is not a company that organizes it. It is the people who do it for themselves. Most of the services are not available for free but for a discounted price. The biggest benefit is the service itself (saving time).

16. Free lunches – “There is nothing like a free lunch.” the saying goes. Well it seems in Zappos, there is. Some food and beverages are paid for by the company. I know, some other companies do it. Still it is not that usual.

17. 10-20% time – Team leaders are encouraged to spend up to 20 percent of the time (up to a day a week) with their people outside of office. This logically help relationships, communication and collaboration.

18. Throne – Supposedly every new employee shows up in the “coaches’ office” where (among other things) they have a throne. Sitting in there (and taking a photo) shall symbolize that everybody is a king or queen (very important person) of his or her life. At the same time he or she is a part of the Zappos Family. The same applies to visitors.

Needless to say I was super-excited in Zappos. After hearing all their stories, after a year of working on Tony’s book finally coming here was a treat. These 18 points are just a superficial observation with no context. Still, I think they are worth mentioning.

It feels like Zappos understands some of the best kept secrets of humanity and succeeded to built its business model around it. We’re living in a world believing in “go-getters”. Zappos seems to believe in “go-givers”. The people here understand that what we share with others, stays with us. What we keep to ourselves, eventually disappears. Google them and see how much they are sharing with world! Their business is booming. A known fact is in ten years of existence they groew from zero to over a billion dollars in sales revenue a year. An interesting fact to realize is that Zappos is not siting on some rare patent neither it is one the Silicon Valley technology stars. It sells shoes… It comes as no surprise that countless executives from conventionally run businesses are lining up to see this weird Disneyland-like company in Vegas. And that is a grand hope! Hope that more people will be free to do what they are good at, free to do what they love. A hope that even more people will live happier and more fulfilling lives.

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One Response to “18 observations from Zappos”

  1. Tomas Tomas says:

    An interesting upgrade for anyone interested in peeking deeper into a Zappos’culture: http://www.zapposinsights.com/main/experiences/2-day-bootcamp/

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