Being intentional about your company’s core values from day one can help to build a solid foundation to guide behavior as your organization grows; few leaders understand this as well as Zappos’ Tony Hsieh.
Zappos has long been an example of the power that company culture has on behavior and business performance. But what’s behind the curtain? What is the team at Zappos doing, specifically, that is driving their admirable levels of employee engagement and retention? 2016 was Zappos’ lowest turnover rate since its founding more than 18 years ago — and I wanted to know the how and the why.
To find out, I asked Jamie Naughton, Zappos’ Chief of Staff, to share her insights.
A single perfect brush stroke does not make a painting. Nor does a single note make a song. Every work of art is a result of many individual pieces all working together in harmony to make the whole. Artists spend their entire lives learning how to improve these individual elements and learning how they fit together to create the final composition.
We don’t often think about this kind of dedication in business. No one spends their entire life devoted to the mastery of middle management. Yet, to excel as a manager, you will need to spend a considerable amount of time learning about the individual people that make up your team.
Well, nothing has changed. We all still hate our jobs.
Wait, that’s not quite right. A third of us are engaged at work. We love our jobs. But the other two-thirds, according to the most recent State of the American Workplace from the Gallup organization, are “actively disengaged” (16%) or “just there” (51%). Wow.
That’s a resounding vote of no-confidence in our current management practices. “The very practice of management no longer works,” says Gallup Chairman and CEO Jim Clifton. He calls for “transforming workplace culture.” Embracing purpose and identifying employee skills, “strengths” in Clifton’s nomenclature, are solid goals.
I recently read an article about our individual ignorance (Why We Believe Obvious Untruths) that made me stop and think about the current state of our union. To say that we are living in two Americas is a gross understatement. And for society’s sake, we have to bridge this divide and learn to listen to each other (notice I didn’t say agree with).
Newsflash: People aren’t possessions. So why do we insist on treating workers like commodities?
Once upon a time, employees and companies enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship. Workers stayed with one company for their entire careers, taking pride in their output and putting their noses to the grindstone for the sake of the organization. In return, companies offered pension plans, training, development opportunities, and reasonable work hours.
Let’s face it: For many workers, the annual Employee Engagement Survey is meaningless.
Once a year, employees throw their opinions onto a form that goes…well, somewhere. They see no real changes as a result of their participation. The next year, the same questions appear on a survey and the same thing happens. The experience feels transactional and shrouded in mystery, then wildly disappointing as any hopes for change fade quietly into the middle of quarter two. This “traditional” Employee Engagement Survey process actually ends up provoking more disengagement.
Poor Employee Engagement Survey experiences seem to be a part of a bigger problem: In its most recent report on the State of the American Workplace, Gallup shared some troubling data: only 33% of the American workforce reports feeling engaged at work. These “engaged” folks feel valued, enjoy their work, and are motivated to take part in improving their organizations. The rest are either not engaged (just “going through the motions”), or worse, actively disengaged (actually working to subvert or destroy what others at work build).
In other words, American organizations are failing two-thirds of our workforce. The report makes one thing very clear: If organizations are going to rise to meet this challenge, they are going to have to transform the ways they are used to managing people, and quickly.
Letting your guard down basically boils down to one thing… being appropriately vulnerable in your communication, which in turn promotes a culture of trust. This diagram is a simple visual showing a different way to achieve effective management and stronger leadership.
A few weeks ago, my wife and I took our six-year-old son on the requisite pilgrimage to LEGOLAND Theme Park in Carlsbad, California. As an avid LEGO “Master Builder”, my son was beyond excited to spend two days completely immersed in brick-building adventures. As a secret LEGO lover myself, I have to admit, I was pretty stoked as well.
I’d never been LEGOLAND before, so I had an opportunity to experience the park with zero expectations — minus the lingering concerns of crowds and hour-long lines that any parent faces with two days in a theme park.
Not only did our family have a great time; we spent most of our flight home reliving the details. And as we put the pieces of our trip back together, I began to deeply appreciate LEGOLAND’s approach to building an exceptional customer experience for their fans.
We hear it all the time. The continuous chatter of experts reiterating the same old talking points about what organizations need to do to engage and retain their workforce.
But, is any of it working? Gallup recently reported that nearly 70 percent of U.S. employees are disengaged, and 51 percent are looking for new opportunities. Even more problematic is the fact that these numbers have stayed stagnant for at least 15 years.
So, what if our ideas about employee retention are all wrong? What if we are being held captive by our own beliefs and assumptions about the very nature and structure of work in today’s society?
Get on a Southwest flight to anywhere, buy shoes from Zappos.com, pants from Nordstrom, groceries from Whole Foods, anything from Costco, a Starbucks espresso, or a Double-Double from In N’ Out, and you’ll get a taste of these brands’ vibrant cultures.
Culture is a balanced blend of human psychology, attitudes, actions, and beliefs that combine to create either pleasure or pain, serious momentum or miserable stagnation. A strong culture flourishes with a clear set of values and norms that actively guide the way a company operates. Employees are actively and passionately engaged in the business, operating from a sense of confidence and empowerment rather than navigating their days through miserably extensive procedures and mind-numbing bureaucracy.