It’s the thinking and behavior

I just completed a tour of the Zappos corporate headquarters just outside Las Vegas. It was fun and enlightening to actually experience how a billion-dollar “.com” company can live the “Delivering Happiness” culture that Tony Hsieh, the company’s CEO, described in his book of the same name. From the outside, Zappos looks like any other corporate building. But on the inside, it’s a perpetual party atmosphere that not only delivers happiness to employees and customers – it delivers truly extraordinary business results. That’s why Amazon acquired the company for $1.2 billion in 2009 and wouldn’t dare tamper with its culture. In the same year, Fortune magazine listed Zappos as one of the top 25 companies to work for.

From crazy job titles and spontaneous cheering to balloons to cubicles adorned with all matter of personal expression, Zappos looks like a company run by Peter Pan leading the lost children in Neverland. Before you do away with dress codes, lift restrictions on personal space decor, hire someone to fill helium balloons, and put a popcorn machine in the reception area, remember this: It’s not the craziness that goes on inside Zappos that drives its performance as a company; it’s the thinking and behavior of its culture.

Here are some no-compromise strategies to refine the thinking and behavior of your company:

  • It’s all about the fit: Zappos hires for fit. All new hires go through four weeks of training, and during that training, they’re offered up to $4,000 to leave if they feel Zappos isn’t for them. Extraordinary skill and talent can do damage to a company if it comes with the wrong thinking and behavior. If teamwork is the hallmark of your company, hire team players. Fact: To get the right fit, you must not only screen applicants, you must immerse new hires in your culture for extended periods. Zappos does it for four intense weeks and tries to bribe them to quit. What do the first four weeks at your company look like?
  • It’s gotta be no-compromise: No matter how thorough your screening and training, toxic employees can find their way into your culture. Even after years on the job, personal challenges can shift a once stellar employee to the dark side. Fact: Allowing the wrong thinking and behavior to exist in your culture is a compromise and it will spread the longer a leader allows it to stay. The integrity of the culture must be protected. Where many say, “Hire right – fire fast,” I say, “Hire right – fire right.” Be committed to the success of every employee. But when you’re fighting harder to protect an employee’s paycheck than he or she is, it’s time to part company.
  • You gotta love it: When Tony Hsieh realized he wasn’t having fun at LinkExchange, a company he co-founded, he sold it to Microsoft for $265 million. When he took over as CEO of Zappos, he made “delivering happiness” a core value. When getting out of bed to go to work becomes a daily challenge, you need to assess your true feelings about your passion for the work you do and your company. Fact: If you don’t love your work and your company, neither will those you lead. You cannot inspire passion and a sense of purpose in others when your passion and purpose has been snuffed out. Sure, leading a company through tough times can sap your energy, but it shouldn’t snuff out that passion inside you for your company and what it stands for. When it does, you need to acknowledge it and do something to get it back fast – or make a decision that you’ve been avoiding. This is where leadership coaching helps get you back on course. Call me if you want to talk about it.
  • There is no map: In Seth Godin’s book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, he writes, “There is no map.” Every leader looks into the future and sees this incredible vision of where the company is going. But it’s the map to get there that’s missing. It’s the map that leaders really want. Fact: Godin is right. There is no map. His response is to “ship” something out the door every day. This means you must relentlessly try new approaches, strategies and ideas. Keep throwing them against the wall until something sticks. And the more you “ship,” the more you find stuff that works. You keep pushing the envelope, paving the road as you move toward your vision. To help you get past the fear of negative consequences, Godin asks, “What’s the worst that could happen?” In most cases, the worst isn’t worth the worry. And, you’ll never know unless you try.

Thinking and behavior are what define a company culture. In the end, it’s not about the numbers and measurements as they are merely readouts of a company’s thinking and behavior, and therefore, its culture. Focus on the thinking and behavior, and the outcomes can be truly extraordinary.

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Please share your thoughts with me about today’s Monday Morning Wake-Up. Click above to comment.

Neil Ducoff, Founder & CEO of Strategies and author of No-Compromise Leadership

Pass this e-mail on to your business colleagues, managers and friends. They’ll appreciate it.


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