“We asked ourselves what we wanted this company to stand for. We didn’t want to just sell shoes. I wasn’t even into shoes – but I was passionate about customer service.”
– Tony Hsieh
It is no secret that the key to Zappos’ success is it’s unique company culture. The turning point occurred when founder Tony Hsieh changed their guiding principal from profits to service. In Delivering Happiness, Tony outlines his insights into company culture throughout his entrepreneurial career. Taking insights from the field of positive psychology and applying it to his organizational setting, Tony has been able to create a cult like environment that inspires individuals through service.
Although the concept of service has its roots in the religious-life of ritual, Émile Durkheim argued that occupational groups would take over this function in the modern era. As we have seen in the development of corporate America, this is often not the case. Decidedly breaking from the culture of greed as a motivator, Zappos has created a ‘cult of service’. “Inspiring” rather than “motivating” has been Tony’s goal.
But how does ‘service’ inspire individuals, making them happier? The answer is the meaning and sense of purpose that comes with service to a cause outside of ourselves. As discussed in the previous titled “Aristotle on The Good Life,” Aristotle differentiates between two types of pleasure: gratification and happiness. The pleasure of gratification is short-term and self-serving, whereas the pleasure of happiness is highly sustainable and in service to others.
Aristotle’s concept of happiness is complimentary to Durkheim’s, as outlined in the post titled “Durkheim on Happiness.” The self-serving pursuit of gratification is not only unsustainable, but it is also creates an endless pursuit to fill a limitless void. As Durkheim states, “To pursue a goal which is by definition unattainable is to condemn oneself to a state of perpetual unhappiness… Inextinguishable thirst is constantly renewed torture.”
At Zappos, achieving happiness comes from delivering happiness. The culture of service Tony has been able to achieve inspires employees by giving them a sense of purpose outside themselves. This is supported throughout the workplace structure at Zappos. A prime example is the lack of time-restrictions on customer service phone-calls, and large amount of staff allotted to this position. This allows employees to focus on serving the customer, rather than call-time efficiency. Tony actually reported that their record call-time was seven and a half hours with a customer!
The foundation of Zappos’ company culture centers on their core values. These are the guiding principals that support a positive environment where individuals gain a sense of comradery rather than a sense of competition. Unlike most organizations, their core values are actually relevant, meaningful, and drawn upon to determine who is hired and fired. This means that individuals who are highly qualified will not be hired or retained if they are not in line with the core values. Instead of assuming individuals are motivated by an endless pursuit of wealth, Zappos focuses its resources on building a workplace that fosters positive relations and provides a structure that allows employees to serve.
Check out the Zappos Family Culture Book, for first-hand accounts of the powerful workplace culture at Zappos.