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The Zappos Story: How Creating a Corporate Culture Drives Recruitment and Business Development Objectives


The Zappos StoryIf there is one company whose outlook and understanding of corporate culture impresses me, it is Zappos. What started as an online shoe retailer with an aim of providing the widest selection of footwear, later became a full-line clothing and merchandise provider with an annual revenue of over 1 billion USD. Their revised goal was to provide exceptional customer service to prompt repeat business. This has become their recipe for success.

For a company who didn’t have a marketing budget for seven years, they’ve done a very good job at penetrating both the retail and recruitment space. They have expanded by word-of-mouth and therefore espouse the benefit of creating a corporate culture where employees feel proud of their employer and therefore provide referrals and recommendations. Their overarching goal is to deliver happiness to the world. While this seems unrealistic, Zappos believes that by creating a happy working environment, employees will be happy at home and their spouses, children and friends will then go to their work or school happy as well. It is a great philosophy, but can it actually work?

I stumbled across the Zappos CEO/COO Blog, where they discuss how Your Culture is Your Brand

Once upon a time brands were created in a boardroom where executives decided what they would share with the world. Even when corporate websites were initially created, this one-way push of information had audiences consuming a desired message. Then social media changed everything. Now there is a two-way dialogue with customers, employees and competitors sharing information and possibly influencing future business opportunities. At Zappos they believe that by getting the corporate culture right, everything else, including customer service, recruitment, sales etc., will follow. When hiring, they’ll compromise on the technical side but never on the cultural one.

As such, their internal interviewing process has two steps. The first is with the line manager or department, reviewing the technical aspects of the role. The second interview is with the HR department, which is purely looking for cultural fit. They ask questions such as, “On a scale of 1-10, how lucky do you feel?” and “If you walked into a room, what theme song would be playing?”. While unorthodox, these questions will help determine if the new recruit fits within the core values of the organization.

Upon hire, new employees go through a four week Customer Loyalty training program and are offered $2000 if they want to quit. This is to ensure that employees are engaged and not just looking for a paycheque. In determining their values and culture, they asked their staff why they liked coming to work and then came up with the following list of core values:

  1. Deliver WOW Through Service
  2. Embrace and Drive Change
  3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do More With Less
  9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble

By investing so much time in employees, Zappos has effectively created brand ambassadors who act as an extension of the recruitment, HR, marketing and PR teams. This positive culture has created both a corporate as well as an employer brand. The line between communications and human resources has become blurred in recent years with both becoming increasingly integrated into the overall sales, business development and reputation of the firm. By breaking down silos between departments and focusing on exceptional customer service to both external and internal audiences, companies can become more effective and successful without a huge financial investment. If it can work for Zappos, it likely could also work for you. They even provide tours as well as one and two-day seminars  on how to create a successful corporate brand.

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