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HOW I DID IT

Tony Hsieh Tells Competitors What They Should and Shouldn't Take From Zappo's Company Culture

Culture is important, says Zappos founder Tony Hsieh. But make it your own.
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You can't argue with success, but you can learn from it. And companies everywhere are learning from and emulating Zappos, which started life as an online shoe store in 1999 and by the time of its acquisition by Amazon in 2009 had become the business everyone wanted to buy from or work for. Tony Hsieh still runs Zappos, which has revenue of more than $1 billion a year, and he serves as both protector and proselytizer of its culture. As he recently explained to Inc., there are elements of the Zappos culture you can adopt, but your values should be your own.

Back in 2008, we started a new department called Zappos Insights. The purpose of this is to help external groups learn about the Zappos culture and hopefully to inspire other companies to think about how to use happiness as a business model for customers, employees, and business partners. In just the past three and a half years, we have had more than 50,000 people come through our free tours and in-depth training.

Our intent isn't to create Zappos clones or to push the Zappos core values on other organizations. Rather, we share the process and stories of creating core values--whatever they may be--and living by them. Research has shown that it actually doesn't matter what your values are. What matters is that you have them and align your entire organization around them. The power comes from the alignment rather than the actual values themselves.

Some examples of practices others have adopted include defining a higher company purpose and a strong focus on employee engagement. We get a lot of HR folks who visit, and we see a lot of interest in the importance of hiring for culture fit and adopting culture reviews alongside performance reviews.

Even our parent company, Amazon, has adopted and adapted our "pay to quit" program, in which we offer employees thousands of dollars to leave the company to ensure that the employees who do stay truly want to be here.

All of this has led us to evolve our vision and purpose over the years. We started out just wanting to sell some shoes online. Now our purpose includes helping to inspire the world.

Previously in Inc Tony Hsieh was on the May 2009 cover ("Everybody Loves Zappos") and featured again in February 2012 ("Tony Hsieh's Excellent Las Vegas Adventure").

IMAGE: Redux
From the July-August 2014 issue of Inc. magazine




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