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Case Study: Zappos’ Company Culture Delivers Happiness

Written by: on  February 13, 2012

Jenn Lim of Zappos

Interview with Jenn Lim, the CEO of Delivering Happiness, a company that she and Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos) co-created in 2010 to inspire happiness in work, community and everyday life.

We caught up with Jenn to ask what some tangible results of a enviable company culture can be and why they offer 4,000 USD to their new hires to quit:

Why is company culture so important?

Company culture is such an intangible thing, like how do you improve a culture? What we’ve found through trial and error is that coming back to your core values, as corporate or hokey as it sounds, really matters. For Zappos at least, it’s the underpinnings of what company culture is all about. Because of those ten core values at Zappos, that allows the company to scale at the rate it has. Having a company under a hundred employees is a bit different than when you’re at a few thousand. By having those values you allow your employees to make decisions on their own, because in the end you have that trust because they’re making those decisions based on a shared set of values.

How do you give employee feedback to improve productivity?

Again, I don’t want to be harping on these core values too much but it really goes back to that. The performance reviews, at Zappos are culture reviews, and the whole idea is that you shouldn’t have them once a year or once a quarter, it should be everyday. The culture review reviews the ten core values and these are the ones that you are actually doing really well and these are the ones you can improve in.

If you make your employees more happy and are aligned with the culture and the values then they are more productive and better at what they do.

Do you still offer new hires $2,000 to quit?

It’s actually increased to $4,000 USD. Basically 4,000 to anyone who wants to quit at the end of a five week training program. Everyone’s offered that. The main reason it’s 4,000 is because not enough people are taking it (2,000). The thought behind that is it really pushes people, I mean 4,000 dollars is not a tiny sum of money, it really makes people think, is this the right role for me? Is this the right culture for me? Are these the core values I’m actually going to live by? It’s proven to be pretty successful at weeding out the people that are not necessarily aligned.

How do you check your company culture promotes productivity?

Let me start with this. If you’ve ever had a chance to see a video or take a tour of Zappos, it’s a wonder how work gets done. Because you’re looking around and there’s cow bells going off and people with Nerf guns and you think it’s a circus. But at the same time everything is getting done. It’s this whole idea of making your employees more happy and they’ll be more productive. There’s the common surveys and managers supervising to make sure that at the end of the day these things are getting done.

A look inside Zappos Office life (video created by the staff):

By letting go and seeing people be true to who they are… people ask, how do you hire so many people that are smiling? How do you get them to smile? And at the end of the day you hire the people that are smiling and not the ones that you have to train to smile because that’s an untrainable thing to do.

You can connect with Jenn and the Delivering Happiness Team on their website or on their Facebook or Twitter.

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  • Jenn and 
    Tony Hsieh say all the right things. They are obviously doing all the right things also. As such, this is not a critique, but a suggestion. Jenn concludes this interview with a lot of discussion about smiles. Her static pictures shows her brilliant smile. Tony also has a brilliant smile in his static photos. So what is my advice? My advice is for Jenn and Tony to watch their interviews, and to SMILE during them and to LOOK HAPPY! I am not doubting the condition of their heart or intent of their hearts, and certainly not doubting their effectiveness in achieving their corporate objectives. I am simply asking them both to “smile the talk”, not just to “walk the talk”, as I believe that by doing so they will inspire at a higher level than they are already !   SMILE PEOPLE, even when you are talking. Your countenance is meaningful, inside the organization, as well as outside the organization ! That’s all!

  • Great interview Filip, and what a cool role Jenn’s carved out for herself – who wouldn’t want to be “Chief Happiness Officer”?

  • Cheers Jemima! Indeed, I’m guessing we’ll see more and more of these kinds of roles… we just need to look at our government to see their investment into happiness and how they are trying to measure it. Happiness is quickly becoming a very serious business.

  • Lara

    Very interesting, I wonder if this type of company culture could be applicable to a manufacturing company with factory workers?

  • Hi Lara, good question. Anyone have any ideas / experience?

    I do know Chip Conley (Joie de vive hotels) uses culture even for the cleaners of his hotel… not exactly a factory but is able to give meaning to what might be considered a very unglamorous job.

    What do you think Lara? Do you work in a factory setting?

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  • Actually, Zappos has a “fulfillment center” in Kentucky where they ship the orders, so that’s similar to a manufacuring factory, right? I’d recommend reading Tony Hsieh and Jenn Lim’s book on Delivering Happiness, or check out http://www.deliveringhappiness.com/

    PS Flip, the 1st link in this article to “Delivering Happiness” Doesn’t work– you misspelled the url – http://www.deliveringhappiness.com/

  • Hi Blaine, thanks for pointing out the website link, I’ve fixed it. Rookie mistake 😉

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