One of the more interesting companies to debut on the 100 Best Companies to Work For list in 2009 is Zappos, coming in at 23. That makes Zappos the highest ranked new comer to the list this year. What makes Zappos, an e-commerce retailer, so unique, especially among start-ups, is an early commitment to defining a culture, and then designing systems and processes that support that culture. Take one of their Core Values, “Deliver Wow through Service.” This is an extremely customer-focused value, and it all starts with employees. It is the Zappos call center employees who have the direct interaction with customers and therefore have the largest opportunity to deliver Wow. Often the Wow is delivered through off-beat and colorful ways that you wouldn’t expect from a call center.
Because having the right employees with the right attitude is so important for Zappos to deliver on its Core Value of “Delivering Wow,” the company invests considerable time and money in selecting and training people who will fit into the culture. In fact, as new recruits go through four weeks of intensive training, Zappos offers them up to $2,000 in cash to leave. The cash payment is designed to entice employees who are on-the-fence about Zappos’ intense culture to cut their losses early and move on to something else. This saves the company in the long-run.
In an interview at HBR’s Idea Cast, Bill Taylor talks about the effectiveness of this strategy:
The idea is to allow some number of people who are probably sitting in that room saying, “my goodness, I kind of like it here, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into and I’m not ready for the intensity and energy that Zappos is expecting;” and it gives people a low stress, low risk and actually rewarding way to opt out at that point. About 10% of new recruits to the call centers take them up on that deal and Zappos thinks that’s money well spent.
And it is money well spent because Zappos is trying to fill the organization with people who will truly thrive in their unique culture, and it is much less expensive to entice a recruit to leave one or two weeks into the training program than it is after four or six months on the job.
In another example of Zappos innovative employee engagement strategy, the company publishes an annual handbook written entirely by Zappos employees. What a great way to send the message that Zappos employees own the culture.