I recently had the opportunity to go with a client to visit Zappos and see its well publicized culture up close on a tour of their new headquarters in Las Vegas.
It was pretty cool to see a branded culture in action. They are explicit and direct about who they are and why, and they celebrate it in many ways. The design of the space they share, the way in which they communicate, and the services they provide to employees all speak to the idea of living their core values. Interestingly, every one of the employees with whom we spoke referenced the core values, but even more, they demonstrated them in the way they answered questions. That’s what it looks and feels like when values are embedded in everything you do – it isn’t a recitation, it is an embodyment.
We had a good debrief from the tour as well. My client is almost 100 years old, and in a fairly serious business. As one person said, when the worst thing you can do is sell someone the wrong sized shoes, it is OK to be a little irreverent and edgy in your culture. But when the worst thing you can do is leave someone living in poverty at the end of their life, you probably need a branded culture that is a little more serious. I think she was exactly right. The take-away from Zappos isn’t that everyone should have a wacky and fun culture, it is that there is power in having a well articulated and understood culture – that it gives your people and your customers a deeper understanding of your commitments and your brand promise.
What happens then? You move product more effectively, and stand out in a commoditized market as having something unique and valuable.