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Lessons from the CEOs – Culture

In this series, we will explore some less-frequently discussed ideas about running a successful business utilizing the experiences of real CEOs.  In this first installment, we find some wisdom from Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.

After selling internet advertising startup LinkExchange.com to Microsoft for $265 million in 1999, Tony Hsieh joined Zappos as an investor, eventually rising to CEO as he created a unique culture that breeds happiness in its employees and customers and gives a lot back. He has even written a book called ‘Delivering Happiness,’ an illustration of his perspective on the goals and values of the company.

To Hsieh, Zappos’ work is meaningless if customers are not delighted and the greater community does not benefit. So how does Zappos execute Hsieh’s vision?

First off, Zappos is known for exceptional, even extreme standards of customer service. For example, the performance of customer service representatives in call centers is not measured in the traditional metrics that usually come to mind; where it is clearly more profitable to keep call lengths to a minimum, this company celebrates employees who have the longest lasting service calls, not the shortest. Zappos also pays $4,000 to any new hire who decides to quit during the training period, in order to foster a culture of employees who are committed to the brand and the culture, not just money.

Working towards building desirable culture within a company is already well known to be extremely important. Large companies spend millions allotted specifically to retain talent and boost productivity. Of course, thousands of studies and surveys conducted in the last 20 years will tell you that happy employees are more productive, but the crux of the idea goes far beyond the notion of simply rewarding your workers with higher salaries or letting them wear Hawaiian shirts to work on Fridays. As the example of Hsieh and Zappos shows, the focus when designing and realizing a great company culture must be to engage employees with the values and goals of the company as a whole.

The people at the front of an organization – the entrepreneur, the business owner, even the executives, usually have the best understanding of the vision of the company and the environment and culture needed to stay on a successful track. The capacity to get others on the same page and find employees to fully buy in remains the challenge. Take a page from Zappos and consider stepping up efforts to make sure the crew is on board; the results may be surprising.

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