How Being Selfish Built Zappos

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two greedy girls fighting for red tanktop in department store Zappos has quickly become an industry leader in getting company culture right. There is a constant tug of war amongst the practices of recruiters between hiring based on cultural fit vs. skill set. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, makes it clear that cultural fit is the company’s number one priority. Fred Mossler and Tonhy Hsieh have built up one of the most widely known brands in their industry based on this key hiring factor :

“Is this someone I would choose to hang out with or grab a drink with….if we weren’t in business together? If the answer is no, then we wouldn’t hire them.”

Early on in the company’s history, Hsieh and Mossler decided to make hires selfishly…and it worked! When they teamed up, they personally interviewed their team. They decided that they wanted to hire people that they actually liked. What a novel concept: spending 40+ hours a week with people you enjoy. Who would have known that this practice would be the cornerstone of their employer brand and overall company success?

Mossler and Hsieh had success with this hiring practice on their own, before teaming up at Zappos. When these two like-minded leaders got together, company culture magic happened.

They now insist on a two-round interview process. The hiring manger or his/her team conducts the first round. This initial interview consists of standard interview practices to determine how the candidate will fit in with the team, gauging experience and relevant technical abilities. The second round is based entirely on cultural fit. Candidates must pass both rounds in order to be eligible for hire. So, while cultural fit is vital, Zappos hasn’t forgotten about actual brains and ability.

Granted, Zappos is known for its emphasis on cultural fit, but it should be known that if the candidate can’t pass the first round interview, establishing experience and skill, the person won’t even get the chance to prove his/her likeability or passion. Hsieh admits to having passed on a lot of amazing candidates whom he knew would be great for numbers side of business, but that’s not what made Zappos great. He insists on passing on any candidate, no matter how great, who doesn’t fit the Zappos culture. Not only has Hsieh made a strong point not to hire these such people, he is all for firing people who have proven that they aren’t a cultural fit. Zappos bases 50 percent of performance reviews on whether employees are living the Zappos culture or inspiring it in others.

Although this entire practice started off so that Tony and Fred could go to work and actually enjoy it, it has proven to be an extremely effective hiring model to foster engagement and a strong culture. Tony Hsieh said,

“Our number one priority is company culture. Our whole belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff like delivering great customer service or building a long-term enduring brand will just happen naturally on its own.”

The idea here is that these people will want to come to work. It is because of this philosophy of loving and living the brand that 75 percent of Zappos orders are from repeat customers, Hsieh said.

“Zappos is a customer service company that just happens to sell shoes,” he explained.

We get that Zappos culture was built off of Hsieh and Mossler’s values, but a lot of business leaders are left with the conundrum of determining the company values. Hsieh takes the guesswork out of this issue for us:

“Just figure out what your personal values are then just make those the corporate values.”

Hsieh makes it sound so easy, but we all know that the magnitude of success that Zappos enjoys didn’t happen by accident. What might be considered serendipitous events in the company’s evolution can really be attributed to its clearly defined values and strategy.

By Maren Hogan