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How Zappos Designs Culture Using Core Values

Zappos fun and weird organizational culture mapped using The Culture Design Canvas.

By Gustavo Razzetti

December 9, 2019

Mapping Zappos’ fun, weird culture

“We’re willing to give up short-term profits or revenue growth to make sure we have the best culture.”–Tony Hsieh

Zappos is known for its weird, family spirit, and fun workplace culture.

Happiness is at the core of Zappos culture. Great culture leads to employee happiness; happy employees drive higher engagement and profitability, and low turnover.

Zappos has a customer-centric culture, as expressed in its purpose and core values. As the company started to grow, having a clear foundation and keeping it alive and well, was a key component of  Zappos’ business success.  

As part of managing growth and scaling the business, Zappos adopted the Holacracy constitution. Tony Hsieh opted for a big bang approach and almost radically implemented self-organization.

The adoption of Holacracy encouraged autonomy and distributed authority, key pillars today. Managers were eliminated, and titles were replaced by roles, while departments were reorganized into circles.

In this post, I will share the key elements of Zappos’ culture through the lens of our tool, the Culture Design Canvas. Check sources at the bottom of the post.

The Core of Zappos’ Culture: Values and Purpose

Since its beginnings, Zappos has been a customer-obsessed organization. The company delivers WOW experiences and happiness through the four C’s: Commerce, Customer Service, Company Culture, and Community.

As Zappos continues to scale, the company wants to ensure the four C’s remain present in their day-to-day business operations. This means offering customers more clothing styles and variety, reimagining ways to exceed customer expectations, and serving more communities.

Zappos’ purpose is: “To live and deliver WOW”

At Zappos, their Core Values are more than just words; they’re a way of life. As Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, said,

“We believe that it’s really important to come up with core values that you can commit to. And by commit, we mean that you’re willing to hire and fire based on them.”

Zappos has ten core values:

  1. Deliver WOW through service
  2. Embrace and drive change
  3. Create fun and a little weirdness
  4. Be adventurous,  creative, and open-minded
  5. Pursue growth and learning
  6. Build open and honest relationships with communication
  7. Build a positive team and family spirit
  8. Do more with less
  9. Be passionate and determined
  10. Be humble

In terms of prioritization, the company emphasizes:

Wowing customers over everything else

People’s happiness even over profit

Weirdness even over fitting-in

Zappos Culture Design Canvas: The Emotional Culture

Pay to quit Bonus:” After a few weeks on the job, new employees are offered a $1,000 bonus to quit. The company doesn’t want anyone to get stuck. Most importantly, the Zappos culture is not for everybody.

“The Offer” is a rite of passage; those who decline the bonus show that they have the commitment, spirit, and energy that Zappos is looking for. The bonus separates ‘Zapponians’ from those who aren’t made for Zappos culture.

“The New Hire Training” program creates deep immersion into the company culture. Regardless of their future role, everyone has to spend at least 30 hours on this training during their first four weeks.

This ritual allows new hires to experience Zappos’ culture at its best: working at the Customer Loyalty Team (CLT).

“Weird Talent Show”: Unlike most talent shows, Zappos isn’t looking to discover the future bright star, but to encourage everyone to have their moment of glory.

The Zappos talent show is about promoting uniqueness and weirdness. The company expects people to participate in at least one of its events. The talent show is a perfect opportunity for everyone to share theirs and have fun.

“Eat it”: This eating contest is something unique to Zappos. In a moment in time where most companies are trying to promote healthy eating, Zappos highlights its “famous eating contest” on its employee book.

Another interesting practice, consistent with encouraging employees to be themselves, is that everyone can decorate their own conference rooms.

Zappos doesn’t address the idea of psychological safety explicitly. Its family spirit is meant to make everyone feel safe and welcome, regardless of how weird they are.

The majority of Zappos’ events encourage people to express themselves in public, making it okay to be adventurous, creative, and open-minded.

Inclusivity and diversity are its core as well as being supportive of many initiatives for people with special needs with the Zappos Adaptive program.

The transparent all-hands meetings allow people to hear first-hand what’s going on with the company three times a year. They balance information sharing like financial updates, showcasing motivational speakers, and creating connections.

Zappos has ditched annual performance reviews. The company encourages people to have regular check-ins instead. Ideally, employees should receive daily feedback. If not, they should practice it at least once a month.

Feedback at Zappos should address the following aspects:

  • How people are living the core values
  • Actualization and learning
  • Leadership development
  • Growth opportunities for the employee

Zappos Culture Design Canvas: The Functional Culture

Since Zappos adopted Holacracy in 2013, the company organized in circles, removed management, and delegated decision-making to the employees.

The meeting rhythms follow that of the Holacracy approach with regular tactical and governance meetings.

The quarterly all-hands meeting plays a critical role: everyone in the company must attend. Three days a year, customers will get a voicemail at Zappos reminding that the entire company has taken that day to celebrate, learn, and connect.

The Voice of Employee (VOE) is a bi-weekly meeting to uncover and address tensions from different departments. A bingo machine is used to randomly select representatives from different departments to “bubble up and bubble down concerns, feedback, and ideas.”

Decisions at Zappos are made using the consent approach that’s part of the Holacracy constitution. Also, customer service employees have total autonomy to make any decision in order to WOW customers.

Zappos norms encourage people to focus — and live — its core values as well as operate under the Holacracy constitution. The company invites employees to act with integrity.

Supporting local communities is vital for Zappos. The company prioritizes hiring local talent over relocating people from other places.

You Might Also Like

The Culture Design Canvas
Netflix’s Culture Design Canvas
Spotify’s Culture Design Canvas
Other Examples of Culture Design Canvas
What Is Workplace Culture? Why You Should Care?

Sources used for Zappos Workplace Culture Design

To map Zappos’ culture, I used the following resources, among many others:

Zappos Culture Book (PDF Download)
Zappos Core Values “What we live by”
Zappos’ All Hands Meeting
Complete Guide to Holacracy Zappos
Zappos’ Orientation Program
Why Zappos Pay New Employees to Quit
Safe Enough to Try – An Interview with Tony Hsieh
Why Culture Design?



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