A Tale of Two Cultures


I once worked for a company that fired lots of people.

Most vice presidents and senior vice presidents had a tenure of less than two years. The surviving team used to joke that being a senior executive at this company was like being a lieutenant in Vietnam – the rank with the highest causality rate.

During my tenure there, I witnessed no fewer than 10 executives with title of VP or above get axed. This doesn’t even count the plethora of junior executives who were sacked. The result was a culture of fear and intimidation. The CEO stayed penned up in her office – rarely seen or heard from unless a mistake bubbled to the surface. So mistakes were buried for fear of discovery and there developed a conspiratorial environment steeped in secrecy.

This, of course, led to distrust, poor customer service, and lots of turnover.

Then there are companies like Zappos, the number one online shoe seller. Zappos may be the model that all companies should try to emulate in these new and trying economic times. Zappos has a simple philosophy: employees first. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh has built a company that has zoomed from $0 in revenue in 1999 to more than $1 billion in 2008.

Happy employees are good employees.

Happy employees are good employees.

He has created this enormous success by building a corporate culture based on transparency and a focus on employees happiness. How many companies can claim to do that? Every Zappos employee goes through a four-week customer training course before they start work. At the end of the course, Zappos offers people $2,000 to quit – on the spot. No questions asked. Only 3 percent of people take the money and run.

“Our number one focus is our company culture,” Tony told the Washington Times. Tony, who sits at a desk in the middle of the office, believes that a great culture translates into great customer service. Zappos publishes a “Culture Book” every year. The employees write the 10 core values for the company that include nuggets like “Be adventurous, creative an opened-minded” and “pursue growth and learning.”

It’s not a coincidence that Zappos is also a company leading the charge in social media. Tony and more than 430 other Zappos employees use Twitter religiously to connect with customers, socialize, and spread the goodwill about the company. They have a YouTube channel filled with goofy (and often hilarious) videos made by employees. They have more than a dozen blogs that help customers by focusing on pursuits such as running, coaching and even parenting.

Zappos is way ahead of the curve. As social media continues to proliferate, the company had realized that its best and most important assets are its employees. In an era of blogging and of Facebook accounts, it will be more difficult for companies steeped in corrosive cultures to succeed – because it will be impossible to hide.

Here is a novel idea: build your company around your employees and watch the rewards roll in.

5 Responses to “A Tale of Two Cultures”

  1. I think we know the same people…

  2. Well, we did work together for a couple of years, so I believe that’s a safe bet.

  3. Just passing by.Btw, your website have great content!

    _________________________________
    Making Money $150 An Hour

  4. Thanks, Mike. Stop by anytime.

  5. liwinpurgatory March 2, 2009 at 8:24 am

    Loved this post, George. I think you know that you and I are completely on the same page about work culture and how important it is to operate a company in a humane way. I assume that you will be able to figure out who I am by the fact that I had a baby named Colin in October.

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