Values are at the center of building a strong company culture, but we’re not going to bother with what they should or shouldn’t be. What matters is that you have a set of core values and that you align your organization around them. This is what Tony Hsieh (sounds like “Shay”) says about building a company culture in the latest issue of Inc. magazine. Hsieh founded Zappos (as if you didn’t know), which has become known far and wide for its legendary customer service. And for its free shipping both ways, but the customer service is what keeps people coming back to Zappos, we’re pretty sure. When Hsieh talks about the success of Zappos, he makes it very clear that the culture of the company is what drives the customer service, which drives sales and profits.
Hsieh points out that even though Zappos teaches its culture to anyone willing to listen (and they’ve been doing it for years), the intent isn’t to create Zappos clones or push their values on anybody else. He doesn’t even claim to have found the secret ingredients or special sauce for building a strong company culture. He says the important thing is to create a set of core company values — doesn’t matter what they are — and align your organization around them. You see, it’s not the values themselves that make or break the culture of a company; it’s the ways you practice them and build on them that are important.
Your business will go through ups and downs, peaks and valleys. Some will be external, like when the economy hit the skids back in 2008. Dealing with something like the Great Recession is easier if your company has a strong culture. People will stick together, they’ll be willing to make sacrifices and do what’s necessary to right the ship. Other problems will come from within, such as a change in personnel. With a weak corporate culture, it can be hard to transition when someone leaves the team. Rather than wonder what to do next, people with a strong sense of shared culture instinctively pick up the pieces and continue moving forward. Nurturing your company’s culture is a key to long-term success, and we’re grateful for Tony Hsieh’s willingness to be open and transparent about the things he and his team have done at Zappos. We’ve found it very helpful. There’s a lot of great literature out there about the Zappos culture, but we recommend getting it right from the source: Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose. There are elements of the culture at Zappos that are worth putting into your own business, but the values need to be your own.
So, have you thought about your company’s culture? Have you done anything in particular to build it and grow it? How have you aligned your company with your values (remember, the application is the important thing). We’d love to hear your thoughts on this culture stuff. Finding ways to do good in business, for clients as well as those we work with internally, is something that’s important to us. Sharing ways to do what we do better benefits us all.