A Rose by Any Other Name

By | July 1, 2009

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Creating a respectful workplace is not about having nice slogans or values statements about respect posted up on the wall. It is about creating a culture where business practices are fundamentally respectful.

Zappos an electronic commerce company and online retailer specializing in footwear is such a company. Their goal is to offer the best customer service in the industry. CEO Tony Hsieh knows that the way to achieve that objective is to focus on core values and company culture. Clearly he is on to something. Zappos grossed $1 billion in 2008, up from $1.6 million in 2000, the year Hsieh became CEO.

Zappos has 10 stated core values. The word respect does not appear in any of them. From my perspective that is not what is important. What matters is whether or not their business practices demonstrate respect and there is no doubt in my mind that they do.

Tony Hsieh describes Zappos as a culture that is “driven by the employees, not by me”. Their core philosophy is summed up by a simple phrase that flows from a respectful perspective. “People may not remember exactly what you did or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.” The desired outcome is happy customers and happy employees, and there is no doubt that disrespectful behaviour will not produce that outcome.

The culture at Zappos is designed to build empowerment and trust. Employees decide what will make them happy at work, and can do whatever it takes to make their customers happy as well. They are trained to show customers that they genuinely care about them and are empowered to do whatever it takes to ensure that happens. If an employee decides that to make a customer happy, he or she should send them flowers, they can go ahead and do that.

Trust develops through business practices that model transparency and openness. Hsieh works in a cubicle.  His thinking was that if he truly wanted employees to know that he embraced the idea of an open door policy, it would be simpler to just get rid of the doors and work among the employees and be part of the conversations on a daily basis. His yearly salary is $36,000.

Each year the company puts out a culture book intended to give employees the opportunity to express what the corporate culture means to them. Other than spelling mistakes, the book is completely unedited. It is a public document.  Anyone that wants a copy of the book can simply ask for one. Prospective employees receive a copy so that they can decide if the culture will be a good fit for them.

While Zappos has a very distinct corporate culture, their philosophy and business practices are consistent with those embraced by companies like Four Seasons Hotels, one of the employers of choice featured in my book Road to Respect: Path to Profit. Four Seasons is a company whose culture is based on the Golden Rule – treat others as you would like to be treated. Founder Issy Sharp embraced respect as a core value to create a culture where employees would feel as valued as the guests they served.

As the old saying goes, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.  At Zappos they don’t talk about respect but they sure act respectfully. And that is all that matters in my book.

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One Response to “A Rose by Any Other Name”

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