Experiencing Culture from Zappos

October 8th, 2010

Employee engagement is critical to your brand. Research by Towers Perrin shows that less than 25% of all workers are engaged – defined as giving discretionary effort on the job – and, worse still, 38% are shown to be working against the company.

Setting aside bottom line issues such as presenteeism, it comes down to this: if your employees don’t believe in your brand, how can you expect your customers to? The answer: you can’t.

BC Blog - Zappos HQ image (1)

Our pursuit of employee engagement best practices led us last month to the headquarters of – currently ranked 15th in Fortune’s list of best companies to work for. It is revealing that Zappos defines itself not as a shoe company or an e-commerce site, but as “a service company that happens to sell shoes. And clothing. And handbags. And accessories. And eventually anything and everything.” This unwavering emphasis on service is fueled by a unique company culture and devotion to 10 core values.

So what are some of the unique ways that Zappos promotes its culture and values and engages employees? While many expressions of Zappos’ culture are spontaneous, here are 5 policies and company initiatives that stood out for us:

  • Hiring for Culture: Job applicants go through two rounds of interviews, one to assess experience/ability and the other to assess culture fit through questions like “On a scale of 1-10, how weird are you?” and “Do you consider yourself a lucky or unlucky person?”
  • Bonus to Leave: Zappos offers $2,000 for a new employee to leave the company upon completion of training – an offer designed to weed out those who aren’t a good culture fit and to reinforce the commitment of those who stay. Less than 1% actually accepts the offer.
  • Co-Worker Bonus Program: While some restrictions apply, generally speaking any employee can give a $50 bonus to a fellow co-worker for a job well done.
  • Culture Reviews: Beginning this September, Zappos has begun piloting Culture Reviews, which are based on Zappos’ 10 core values, to replace traditional Performance Reviews.
  • Face Game: Each time an employee logs on to the Zappos intranet, a co-worker’s photo appears along with 5 names from which to choose. It then redirects you to a page with that individual’s correct name and personal bio. It also tracks your cumulative score (% correct) and assesses the size of your network (how well you know people outside of your department).

So how engaged are your employees?  If you haven’t before given serious thought to this question, chances are the answer is ‘not enough’ – and ultimately, it’s hurting your brand and your bottom line.

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