10 Culture Lessons from Tony Hsieh

Personally, I didn't know Tony or his previous history until my Tweeter feed got filled with the sad news about his death. It took me some time to learn more about Tony and his impact on our world today. After doing my research, I came to a conclusion: most of the companies today are totally missing out on creating a strong team culture. So, here are some key things that I was able to extract from numerous interviews and talks with Mr. Hsieh.


What is your bad culture experience?

Before Zappos, Tony was running a startup called LinkExchange. It was sold to Microsoft. Tony's reason for the exit was bad team culture. Tony admitted to this, and used it as a motivation to create a great team culture at Zappos. You can think about your own bad employee experience. What sucked for you at your first job? Perhaps you still have similar problems at your current company. Can you find a fix for them?

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Focus on your employees as much as on your customers.

Don't forget that people who are on-board with your vision have their own dreams and aspirations. Try to think of ways you can make their job more enjoyable. For example, Zappos employees claim that they make decisions on their own. How great does that sound?


Give Freedom to your employees.

No micromanager will admit they micromanage. Maybe you should always assume that there's some micromanagement involved. So how will you create the type of environment where your team doesn't get told what to do yet still achieves needed results? At Zappos, Tony was able to create this atmosphere. The customer support team doesn't have scripts. Their whole aim is to help people. They act based on principles and not direct tasks.


Your focus should be your customer not your product.

While Zappos started as an online shoe store, Tony said that they want to be much bigger than that. At the core of his company he preached to focus on customer and satisfy their needs instead of improving the product. At Zappos, the whole strategy was to ignore advertising as their growth channel and instead think about how customer service can be improved. This approach led to great sales results and mutual understanding inside of Zappos on what matters.


Think creatively about your hiring.

Zappos hires based on 2 fits. Fit for the hiring position and fit for the culture. After an interviewee is determined to be a great fit, Zappos offers them something very intriguing. A new hire has a chance to get paid for the training, plus a $3000 bonus if they reject the hiring offer. That way the people who accept the job feel more committed. Only about 2-3 percent of people take that offer. It's a great bargain for the company to onboard people who are there for the right reason and not just a paycheck.


Don't start a brand, start a philosophy.

The Zappos team created a set of 3 things that are essential for the brand: Clothing, Customer Service, Culture. By putting it all together, they have realized that Zappos is about delivering happiness. That's a genius way to distill your mission.

“People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel
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Hire, promote, and fire based on culture values not on performance.

It's up to you to decide what your company values are, but you should have them set. For Zappos, one of them is being humble. Turns out it's not easy to ask people about this value while hiring. The response won't be very accurate. To fix this issue, Zappos came up with a pretty smart way to uncover the truth. Since a lot of job applicants are out of town, Zappos hires a driver that picks them up from the airport. After the interview done, a driver is asked how the job applicant was treating them. If the driver says "bad", it doesn't even matter how good the interview was.


Core values don't matter, committing to them does.

Tony said that he took this idea from nature by looking at flying birds. As they fly they look like one organism. Birds do have very simple rules while traveling. Have some distance from the bird to the left, have some distance from the bird to the right. They are not guided by one main bird that tells them what to do. Those simple rules are just like your company culture principles. Commit to them and your team will be united. That's how Zappos was able to scale their team culture.

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Chase the vision not the money.

Even though it might sound obvious, Tony is very convinced about this idea. He was often being asked about what industry to enter to make a giant pile of money. This response was standard. Focus on problems and customers that you like the most. Money will follow. After selling his first startup, he was able to invest in dozens of startups. It was his choice to join Zappos. Without his love for the customer service, he wouldn't achieve such result.

“Don't chase the paper- chase the dream” — P. Diddy

Rediscover your Happiness.

Even though Tony left the world on a sad note, he was standing firm on the idea that we should focus on happiness. By happiness he didn't mean running after every pleasure but rather fulfilling purpose. I guess we should take a lesson from that and apply it to what we do.