You have to walk the talk…

There has been a great deal of coverage on the acquisition of online retailer Zappos.com by Amazon. I had the privilege of hearing Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh speak earlier this year at the Ragan Social Media Conference in Las Vegas.

I have to admit that when I saw Tony’s name on the program as a keynote and realized he was speaking about corporate culture, I wasn’t that excited about it. However, you can’t deny that Zappos.com has a great reputation as does Tony, so I went to see him speak because, well – he was there and so was I.

His keynote changed how I view the world. I am so glad that I attended and didn’t take the extra time to catch up on emails or go and find a Starbucks. While he spoke a great deal about a passion of his – finding out what makes people happy and the science behind it – he also spoke a lot about Zappos.com and why they are a success. He talks about this in more detail in an article in entrepreneur.com. It’s worth a read. I got a chance to connect with Tony after his keynote and he generously offered to share the Zappos.com culture book with AHA. Now, keep in mind that this is a busy person. He runs a company that has $1 billion in sales, he speaks at conferences and events all over the world and he is immersed in a range of other things – such as his passion for finding out what creates happiness, but he not only offered to share some of the ins and outs of Zappos.com with me, he made sure that he delivered on what he promised. Which is exactly why Zappos is a success. They walk the talk and so does their CEO.

Tony gave me some excellent advice about corporate culture and I realized how important it is for us at AHA and for our clients. I think sometimes it’s easy to define (and dismiss) culture as that “thing” that HR does, but it’s so much more than that. A great culture can take your business from viable to incredibly successfully.  It is how you approach and interact with your world. A strong culture can only be built and maintained through authenticity, integrity and transparency. What comes out of that is respect, affection and some fun. You can’t fake it, you can’t push it on people from the top down, you can’t mandate it, demand it or issue a memo declaring it – you have to grow it. At the heart of creating a positive culture is communication. At the core of good communication is the ability to actively listen, pay attention, hear what is being said and understand what the needs of your stakeholders are – internally and externally.

Zappos is based on a set or core values which resonated strongly with me. In fact, now that we have our crew solidified, we are developing a refresh set of our own core values at AHA that are inspired by Zappos.

Zappos core values are:

  1. Deliver WOW through service.
  2. Embrace and drive change.
  3. Create fun and a little weirdness.
  4. Be adventurous, creative, and open-minded.
  5. Pursue growth and learning.
  6. Build open and honest relationships with communication.
  7. Build a positive team and family spirit.
  8. Do more with less.
  9. Be passionate and determined.
  10. Be humble.

Zappos.com has done it well. Ask anyone who has dealt with this company and they will tell you that the customer service is excellent and that they would purchase from them again. I think that any organization that aspires to build a brand as strong as Zappos.com will have a focus on culture as their foundation.

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