More than anything, Zappos wants its employees to fit into its very well-defined, somewhat unorthodox culture.
“Everything we do comes down to our culture,” Jamie Naughton, Zappos’ so-called “speaker of the house” told an audience at Ragan Communications’ social media for PR and communications conference at Walt Disney World Resort.
Why is culture so vital? For one thing, it’s a reflection of the brand. If your employees don’t reflect your messaging, customers will notice.
It all comes down to happiness, Naughton said. Employees should be inspired, not just motivated. They should want to do their jobs, and go beyond them, without thinking about whether a task fits their job descriptions. To get there, employees need to feel that they’re in control, that they’re making progress, that they’re connected, and that what they do has meaning.
Finding that meaning through culture is so important that Zappos does a few things that sound downright odd. Naughton shared a few of those methods with the crowd.
Slow to hire and quick to fire
Lots of businesses rush to fill open positions and hesitate to cut problematic employees loose. Zappos does the opposite.
The company offers applicants that it’s about to hire and employees who have just come to work money—between $2,000 and $4,000, depending on how far along the applicant/employee is in the process—to quit. If the employee feels uncomfortable at the job, the payout is a way to get them to speak up and say so.
If that employee still ends up not being a good fit for the culture, the company doesn’t mess around when it comes to showing him or her the door, Naughton said.
“We feel it’s a bigger risk to keep a bad employee than it is to let them go,” she said.
Interviews and performance reviews
A full 50 percent of the questions in employee interviews are about Zappos’ culture and how an applicant will fit into it.
“Our HR department’s only responsibility is to determine if your personality and your values match ours,” Naughton said.
Employee performance reviews are based entirely on how well someone fits into the company culture, she added.
“It doesn’t really matter what your values are. It matters how much you commit to them,” Naughton said.
In this clip, she explains how some brands elaborately display their values but aren’t committed to them:
Zappos committed to its 10 core values not by gathering a committee of executives to write them up and not by forcing employees to memorize them. Rather, the company looked to its best employees and based its values on them. Then it brought those ideas back to employees and asked if they were accurate.
One of those values, “Create fun and a little weirdness” has become part of the interview process.
“We actually ask every applicant, ‘On a scale from one to 10, how weird do you consider yourself?'” Naughton said. “It doesn’t really matter what your answer is. What matters is how you explain it.”
Zappos’ website includes a live “tweet wall” of everything its employees post to Twitter. There’s one for the general public, too. Both walls are completely unfiltered and unedited.
“We don’t look for only good things to be said about Zappos,” Naughton said.
Similarly, the company published an annual “culture book” in which employee opinions on the company and its culture are collected and published. The only edits are for spelling, she said.
“If you read through this book, you’re going to see the good in Zappos, the bad, and some of the indifferent,” Naughton said.
Zappos has been committed to its culture from the beginning, she added, even when there have been costs. Not just the cost of a particularly nasty Twitter complaint, either. It’s real, monetary costs, too. The company spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on employee lunches in the early days.
Serving customers is a huge part of Zappos’ culture, to the point that every new employee, no matter what their position, starts out answering phones in the call center. Everyone goes through four weeks of training, which includes answering calls. Also, every employee, including CEO Tony Hsieh, spends 10 hours over the holidays taking customer calls.
Zappos doesn’t put any limits on its customer calls—the longest call on record is 10 hours and 20 minutes—and call center employees help customers shop with competitors if Zappos doesn’t have a particular item in stock.
“We might lose your order today, but we hope that next time, you’ll come back to our website and we’ll sell what you’re looking for that time,” Naughton said.