For many of my readers (there are least 2 of you...at least my analytics tell me so!) you will know that I have fallen in love (platonically) with Tony Hsieh ever since the day I read Delivering Happiness. The core values, the recruiting process, the attention to details is a great combination for employee engagement. I have always said this will lead the way to insurmountable valuations and profits. I've encouraged clients to adopt similar tactics and hiring processes in their organizations (at least, how I understood it). Part of me has even been scheming about ways to move to Vegas and try to work for Zappos myself because I so enjoy the values on paper (a pipe dream really...but I mean, have you seen the cost of real estate down there???)
On April 6th, as part of the GrowCo conference held by Inc. Magazine in Las Vegas, we had the opportunity to check Zappos out. And true to literary description, the minute I walked in I felt absolutely taken care of. From my name tag ready to go, to a nice water bottle given to me for free - it wasn't lavish, but it was definitely welcoming. (This is the front desk.)
The minute we walked through the doors we watched a video of a handsome gentleman (who coincidentally, had a Canadian flag on his computer). We spent more time talking to him than listening to the video...besides it was the coles notes version of Tony's book anyway...boring for anyone who is as obsessive about Zappos as I was.
The only rule of the tour: Don't take pictures of financials. I'm pretty sure our tour guide, Rocco, would have kicked some serious a$$ had someone tried to take pictures anyway. We interacted with staff, took close up pictures of everything and anything and had a great time...
Then we get to the recruiting department. Here I am, all bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to ask questions and learn. Then someone is asked to press a bell, which launches music and the whole group (almost 10 of them) pick up those stupid shake weights and shake them in unison to a song. In front...of everyone. (In case you don't know what a shake weight is...here is a close up...oh yeah.)
I then realized I could never work at Zappos. I was humiliated for them. This is the group of them (and yes I realize the irony in not only taking a picture, but posting it as well):
At any rate, I continue the tour and we get into the customer service division where Rocco tells us about the longest call on record: 8 hours and 23 minutes with nothing sold. My new entrepreneur and operational efficiency hat blow off my head. I mean - what was the point of that?? A beautiful friendship? Are you kidding me? Bah. I scoffed. And yet 1.2 billion dollars kept going through my head...
As the tour finished and the obviousness that Zappos should have stocks in the craft store, "Michaels" due to the sheer amount of crap...errr....crafts that hung from every direction possible, that same number kept going through my head. I mean, Tony, really? And as I passed his incredibly dusty desk (I'm certain he's never there...not with all the junk piling up on it anyway...unless I was looking at the wrong desk...which, with all the stimuli there, I very well could have been!) the same thing kept going through my head, "But there is obviously something to this...I mean, he's got to be doing something right...I mean 1.2 billion dollars!" But what was it?
A day later I think I figured it out (now, I was in Las Vegas, slightly hazy in thought process): Instead of a massive advertising campaign or marketing budget, all of their money gets funnelled into an account that pays for walking billboards. And instead of those guys you see spinning signs on the side of the road, advertising, these guys have literally drank the kool-aid and enjoy working at Zappos. You're never going to get the most fulfilled person to sit answering phones for a living, but if you can make it that much more tolerable, it's natural employees talk about it to their friends and anyone they come across. And the tours (which they have a significant amount of people dedicated to) are other ways of advertising the business. Suddenly Zappos becomes a Disneyland ride or tourist attraction and suddenly their sales go up! It's a genius marketing campaign really - and gets to be called employee engagement instead.
But Tony - don't you think you're taken advantage of just a bit? I mean isn't there a middle ground? Then again...why am I trying to find a middle ground when you obviously got the equation right....for you.