I have been thinking of my morning with Tony Hsieh on and off for the last two weeks. Tony is the architect and CEO of the runaway success Zappos, which is the single largest online retailer of shoes in the world. Last year they grossed over $1billion in merchandise sales. Tony’s book and keynote presentation is all about culture. How he and his team created a fun, customer focussed culture that leaves every sales associate empowered to solve every customer problem. In an age where we are more likely to get a menu of phone messages rather than a real life sales associate, Tony’s message is important and timely. In our talk afterwards he was incredibly generous with his time and did not hurry any of our small group along.
What I heard most of all is that Tony Hsieh believes that people are the centre of any successful company and the people at Zappos deserve to have fun, take pride in their work, and be empowered to make as many decisions as possible. Tony put a lot of emphasis on how the Zappos culture encourages employees to be who they really are. This starts with the Zappos Communication Policy: Be real and use your best judgement. This message really resonated for me. In my keynotes I talk to companies on the importance of each person being supported to bring all that they are to their jobs. In my belief system, personal potential is one of the core responsibilities each of us have in life, we are asked to become all that we were meant to be. This isn’t just a new age adage, this means applying your talents in ways that require courage, hard work and tremendous belief. Everything that we are we bring to work each day. Our abilities to take risks have compassion, to be clear thinking and non judgemental, these are qualities that make us great in our jobs, and they are qualities that we should find are welcomed in our careers of choice.
We used to hold a concept that we donned our suits each morning and became different people. There are still some corporations that foster this culture. Employees are not allowed to be real, they speak in an artificial way, they keep a cool and analytical distance and they tend to make their clients feel a wee bit uncomfortable (think lawyers). Presumably the thinking goes that formality and double speak make us feel that the person is capable, measured and respected. Not to pick on lawyers because there are lots of examples in computing, medicine and government. We are all learning that people want to be real, they want to bring their whole selves to work and they want to be empowered to care for their clients.
In a culture of caring, employees and management feel supported in bringing their best ideas forward, they are involved in creating new ventures not just hearing about them, and they are invited to be an integral part of paving the future of their company. Zappos appears to do a great job of doing these things and Tony Hsieh is preaching the message of employee empowerment to whoever will listen, and by the size of this audience, by the interest from the crowd in our post keynote gathering, and the tremendous success of Zappos tours (where anybody is allowed to come and experience how the Zappos culture is animated in the head office), Tony is succeeding in positively influencing the look and feel of call centre jobs around the globe. ~Silken