Culture Development at ZapposRecently I delivered a keynote presentation on culture and leadership development at a senior leader’s conference. Robert Richman also spoke at the event sharing his insights and experiences as co-creator of Zappos Insights, a program for educating companies on the powerful culture of Zappos that catapulted the American online shoe retailer from a startup in 1999 to $1 billion in sales by 2008. In 2011 the company was rated #1 in customer service by American Express customers and #6 in Best Places to Work by Fortune magazine.

Robert captured the key lessons and insights from his time with Zappos in his book, The Culture Blueprint: A Guide to Building the High-Performance Workplace. The book is a succinct and high energy overview of the key leadership and people principles at the heart of Zappos’ highly effective culture. Their mission is to “Live and Deliver WOW!”

Here are six lessons on culture development from Robert’s presentation and book that especially stood out:

  1. Co-Creating Culture — as outlined in our June webcast, Leading a Peak Performance Culture, we define culture with variations of “the way we do things around here” such as behaviors/attitudes that are accepted/overlooked or expected and rewarded. Robert’s thought provoking definition is “culture is a feeling” that comes from experiences creating emotions.
  2. Opt-In — he rightly points out any culture development work that’s forced or mandatory will be resisted. He extends this idea to eliminating the phrase “buy-in” because it’s a paradigm of selling. He advises aiming for alignment instead.
  3. Core Values — when actively modelled throughout the organization, central to hiring and firing (we’d add recognizing and promoting), and used as decision-making criteria, values lay the foundation of a high-performance culture.
  4. Internal Service — there’s a direct and powerful correlation between how people inside the company are served and treated to how they deal with external customers.
  5. Remove Obstacles — find the biggest obstacles, problems, or frustrations — pain points — as leverage for change. This is the quickest way to alignment.
  6. Resistance is a Gold Mine — resistant people are passionate and engaged. By addressing their blocked energy they can be made into enthusiastic converts.

The Culture Blueprint provides leadership tips, inspiring insights, and some good implementation ideas on the “soft side” of culture development. What’s not covered are the “hard” systems and processes that sustain and support peak performance cultures. It’s a quick and easy read to energize your efforts in leading a peak performance culture.