Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Elevated HR Solutions: Taking on Tony Hsieh of Zappos? Oh boy!

Alright - so admittedly I do not have, nor will I ever have, a company that sells for 1.2 billion dollars.  I actually just have a company that's only 8 months old and there are days when I'm wondering if I'll ever sell it for 1.2 dollars...period.  And of all the businesses to run - I run an HR business with no previous experience of running a business.  So the fact that I am about to write an entire blog questioning Tony Hsieh of Zappos has to sound ludicrous to most.  And yet here I am...

For many of my readers (there are least 2 of 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 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.


  1. Thanks for stopping by! I'm glad the tour was thought provoking.

    The focus on culture and employees is paramount to the service experience. Knowing that you are part of something bigger than your 'job' leads to being an advocate for the service, the brand and the culture.

    Recruiting is a key part of keeping the culture going and growing. The hiring process can be fairly long, because we want to ensure that the candidate is a good fit, and that this is the right place/fit for them. You can check out how the hiring for culture goes on (bottom right has a spot for you to download the culture interview questions!)

    Thanks again for visiting, eh!?

  2. I certainly do not debate that your hiring process is paramount to your success. I could see it takes a very special individual to work at Zappos without question :)

    It was more the process and the environment - after a while, the tour felt like I was at a zoo watching the creatures at Zappos. I still love what Tony has done - just making the statement, adopting the management style there may not be for everyone!

    Thanks for posting a comment - tweeting it out and all that jazz! Debate is always fun :)

  3. Sorry if it came off like a debate. I wasn't really shooting for debate, was looking to bring HR info into the discussion. You even stated that you don't think you could work there, so I was taking that as a lead to discuss the hiring that we do vs what most companies do.

    Just for the sake of debate...
    One of the biggest things we stress in Zappos Insights is that the culture of the Zappos Family may not be the right culture for your company. The focus is really more on showing that paying attention to employees needs and values can lead to a culture defined from all levels of the organization. This can lead to happier employees, which can lead to improved performance (even though it looks like we're hanging out and goofing off at times), Lower turnover/attrition, improved focus on service (external and internal)... etc...

    So the entire experience is set up to show you who we are (culture, and job functions) and the growth that we have continued to see ,despite the fact that many businesses feel that culture is a byproduct and not something that should be cultivated/focused on.

    I look forward to more great discussion!

  4. Debate/discussion? We say "eh" you say "ah"...:)

    I'll be clear - your hiring process is impeccable and certainly adds value. I just realized after being there, it would not be an environment I would be comfortable in and yet, I imagined it to be perfect for me until I got there.

    I still love the company (and wish it still sent stuff to Canada). Just needed a justification on all the money they do spend on employee engagement - and I think I found it. It's just good marketing and pr.