What's with some businesses these days?

Tony Hseih, CEO of Zappos
Zappos has the culture right and it gets them great customer service. What's stopping your business from taking care of its employees first?

Yesterday I had some free time and finally watched a video I’ve been wanting to view for a long time – Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, talks at Google. (Unsurprisingly, the entire talk is free for the viewing at YouTube…)

Tony Hsieh, entrepreneur and practical applied positive psychologist, did not create the company of Zappos – it already existed when he invested in it – but essentially he did create the Zappos that we know today: the Zappos of excellent customer service, achieved through dedicated work at creating a positive corporate culture. How was this done? Essentially through focused, conscientious and deliberate crafting of the culture and then focused, conscientious and deliberate hiring to maintain that culture.

A few things stood out for me in the Google talk.

First of all, that Hsieh had created a company prior to his innovative work at Zappos. But as that company got bigger, he sold it to a much larger corporation. The reason, he says, was because the culture started to go downhill. He, as a company founder, stopped being interested in going to work – so he could hardly imagine what others were feeling. This led him to create a deliberately and intentionally more positive culture at Zappos.

It also struck me that while Zappos promises – and delivers – excellent customer service (his story about ordering pizza from Zappos, a shoes and clothing site, is hilarious!), Zappos does not focus on customer service. Instead, they focus on culture and supporting their employees – and making the right hires! There is no company policy for how to handle drunken customers calling Zappos in the middle of the night to order pizza, yet the poor employee who answered that call was able to make outstanding customer service decisions autonomously as a result of knowing and believing in Zappos’ culture and values.

Finally, Zappos now teaches other companies how to do this. And they offer tours. I’m seriously considering going to next year’s ICF conference in Las Vegas just so I can get picked up at the airport in a Zappos shuttle, tour the facility and then get dropped off at my hotel. Plus I’ve never been to Vegas…

So to all those companies who say “it can’t happen here”, Zappos and I ask, “Why not?” If a call-center in the  middle of the desert can have a great employee culture, which results in excellent customer service, which results in a higher-than-average percentage of return purchases from your loyal customers who then end up doing your marketing for you so you can invest that money in your corporate culture instead of marketing, then why not? The business case is clearly there.

Now contrast that to an individual I was talking with recently whose company can’t seem to give him a few days off to attend an Executive MBA program. He is already paying for the program out of his own pocket. He is already using up all of his vacation days to attend the Friday classes. He has already offered to work extra hours to make up the extra days that he needs. His company is still saying “no”.

Do you think that employee might be thinking about leaving the company sooner rather than later? Do you think that employee might be figuring out ways to deceive the company so he can get his days off? Do you think that employee might be less and less attached to the company? And how much do you think that company will get of the potential future value of that MBA? Approximately zero, is my guess. How is this a good business decision? I don’t believe that it is. Consider how much it will cost the company to recruit, hire and train a new employee. Considerably more than what it would cost to let this MBA student have a few extra days off.

Business leaders – if you think that your employees are lying to you, and if you think that they don’t care about the company, you might just be right. But now turn it around – what good reasons have you given them recently to care? Zappos offers newly trained employees $3000 (yes, that’s three thousand dollars) to leave the company. The original offer was much lower (details in the video) but they kept increasing it because not enough people were taking it. Business leaders – if you offered $3000 to your employees to leave, how many would take you up on it? If the answer is more than 5%, you have a serious culture problem.

Good news – it can be fixed. Stay tuned for more ideas on how. In the meantime, watch the video and please share below your best and worst stories about employee engagement.

Lisa Sansom

Lisa Sansom has her MBA from the Rotman School of Management, and over two decades of experience in teaching and training. Her years of work in the organizational development field have included projects on change management, employee engagement, leadership development, team coaching and employer of choice strategies.

Reader Interactions


  1. Gregory Barsh, Esq. says

    Great, love it. Thanks. Can really feel your excitement right through the words.

    Tony’s story is very inspiring. We also love Pos Psych in the workplace at ruHap, The Happiness Company.

    Thanks, and Be Happy,

    Gregory Barsh, Esq.
    Chief Happiness Officer
    ruHap, The Happiness Company
    Follow our blog, How to be Happier, at http://ruhap.com/content/category/blog/
    Twitter: ruHapIndex
    Facebook: LIKE US at http://www.facebook.com/pages/RuHap-The-Happiness-Company/137275779654151

  2. Stella Grizont says

    Lisa, thanks for highlighting Zappos as a positive business case and bringing forward the example of paying your employees to quit. Can’t wait for more of our implications and insights. Keep me posted if you go on the tour – maybe will join you!

  3. Peter Hiddema says


    Great article and I couldn’t agree more! Thanks for your comment on my recent post about meeting Richard Branson, and how his philosophy of treating employees like family has reaped rewards again and again. It sounds like Zappos has got it right. At Common Outlook Consulting – one of the firms I founded – this is exactly what we do, and the results in terms of the working environment, employee dedication, and the customer experience speak for themselves.

    Wishing you all the best for the Holiday Season and many joys and successes in 2011.


  4. Jeremy McCarthy says

    Hi Lisa, great post. I am a huge Tony Hsieh fan as you have probably already noticed by articles on my own blog. One thing I find interesting is how many people in the MAPP and Positive Psychology community talk about the fact that they can’t sell “happiness” to businesses because they won’t be taken seriously when you have some hugely successful case studies such as Zappos and Coca-Cola that are unashamedly bringing happiness to their customers. I’m glad you are going to keep banging this drum.


  1. […] Love your job … or don’t work here. When we first heard about this outrageous tactic, it was both impressive and depressing.  Zappos employees are actually offered a ‘Quit Now Bonus’ of up to $3,000 to leave the job.  That’s right: If they don’t like the company, job or what they learned in training, they can walk away with a nice fat bonus. […]

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