CEO Tony Hsieh on Changing Business as Usual


That's a major driving force in how Zappos became one of the most successful online shoe retail stores. Happy workers make customers happy.

“If I am going into an office to work, then I am going to build a place that I want to work [in],” CEO Tony Hsieh, who took Zappos from startup to $1 billion in annual sales, said during a sit-down interview with Inc. Well.

Hsieh outlines why the happiness attribute, combined with crowd sourcing techniques and empowered employees, will push his company into the future in his book, Delivering Happiness. He elaborated on some of the concepts with me during my visit to the Zappos campus.

The science of happiness is not achieved by accident. Setting up an environment that fosters happiness is crucial. Happy employees are more creative, provide better service and work more efficiently. One major component to creating happiness is a sense of purpose. Being part of something that is bigger than you as an individual. As a leader it is your responsibility to provide the opportunity for the people around you to create their own purpose.

For 90 minutes I sat by myself in the café on the Zappos grounds, observing the employees as they came and went. With smiles on their faces, I watched as employee after employee gave each other compliments ranging from “great job on finishing that report early” to “that was a rough crowd for your presentation, but you nailed it.” That's rare at most companies.

I finally turned and spoke with two ladies that were sitting next to me having a meeting. They are both buyers for the company, one a senior buyer with over five years experience, the other a junior buyer that has been with Zappos for eight months. Both shared common thoughts about their company: this is an extension of their family, they love helping each other succeed, and this is their company.

That feeling of ownership only happens when companies and leaders empower those around them. From the moment you are hired at Zappos, you are empowered. After completing your new employee training (all employees go through the same training including answering the phones) you are given the option to stay or take $2,000 and be on your way. The choice is yours. You are empowered to make the best decision for you and for the company. From then on you are expected to take control of your actions, your team, and to take ownership of the decision making process.

Tony explained “I want to feel like I can make decisions for what I am doing and other people want that as well. When people are empowered they feel a sense of ownership.”

Tony and his team built a company where people make decisions in a highly decentralized environment. Does every idea work out? Of course not, but there are plenty that do. The end result is a company of leaders that believe they can build this company to be successful. One major act of empowerment is allowing your employees, vendors, and customers to have a say in what and how you operate.

Crowdsourcing has led Zappos to where is it today. The employees helped create Zappos' core values, its employee handbook, and the environment in which employees work. The company is about to make a major move into a new location in Las Vegas and instead of just making all the decisions Tony reached out to the employees and asked them to help guide the process.

When I asked Tony about why he crowd sources so much he replied, “It scales better. If I have to make every decision at some point I become the bottleneck. [Crowdsourcing] is the only way you can be successful. Everyone in the company benefits from decentralizing the decision making process.”

This scares a lot of leaders and businesses because it is giving up a portion of control. When you create a system that forces most of the decisions to flow through your desk you are creating a bottleneck. This inefficient model of doing business is a result of several things, but can be elevated by creating environments that produce happy employees while empowering them to make decisions. Then when you crowdsource your company you are presented with ideas that come from a position of ownership, loyalty and creativity.

As leaders begin to embark on doing more with less, a new digital work environment, and the constant flattening of our world we are wise to take note of what Tony is doing to prepare his company for tomorrow. All these things can be achieved with systems and education. The real question is: Are your ready for this shift in business as usual?

Jabez LeBret is the author of the Amazon No. 1 bestselling law office marketing book How to Turn Clicks Into Clients. As a partner at Get Noticed Get Found, a legal marketing agency, over the last nine years he has delivered over 800 keynote addresses in six countries. His main area of expertise is managing Gen Y in the workplace, advanced Facebook strategies, LinkedIn strategies, Google+, SEO, local directory optimization, and online marketing.

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