Stop trying to be Zappos and find your own path


Posted by Carolyn Taylor - 17 February, 2014


Stop trying to be Zappos and find your own path

Were we surprised to discover that Zappos are doing away with managers and implementing 'holacracy?' I wasn't.

Zappos can always be relied upon to provide inspiration to any of us aspiring to build the very best Customer-Centric and Innovation cultures.

The concept was actually successfully implemented some 20 years ago in another organisation—who at the time were considered radical, and continue to be—Semco, in Brazil. Ricardo’s Semler’s book The Seven Day Weekend outlines that particular story.

One point, however, that I find is often missed about Zappos and other recent stars in the culture management arena, is that they're start-ups. They're led by the people who started them, or the first generation after that. One of the reasons for the decline in Apple’s share price is that analysts aren't sure Tim Cook will be able to sustain the culture which sat underneath the extraordinary turnaround led by Steve Jobs after his return to the company. Something Yukari Iwatani made clear in her recent New Yorker piece 'Apple After Steve Jobs'.

I find these ever-great cultures a good source inspiration. For example, Netflix’s Statement of Values, or Google’s Upwards Feedback Tool are both currently doing the rounds on the Internet. Zappos CEO Tony Hseih’s book is also a great read if you want to learn about the mind-set of someone who leads a truly Customer-Centric culture.

But I think it would be a mistake, for say, a hundred year-old company in Australia—a company only recently moving beyond the shackles of intense union control and 20 years out from being government owned—to set a cultural goal to become like Google. One wise CEO, with whom I’m working right now, set a different aspiration:

"To become the best that we can be, given our heritage. To build on our strengths, to be more values-led, and to introduce one or two new dimensions to the culture."

This is do-able. And executives need goals which are do-able. Setting the right cultural
goals is a key component to getting traction on changing culture. A good goal is stretching, but achievable, and measurable in ways that will show change quickly.

So let’s use Zappos as the inspiration, in the same way a short and mildly athletic young boy might admire Michael Jordan, and then set off on a path that allows us to show meaningful change. Change that will benefit customers and employees.

Connecting to the essence of who you are as a company, the values you hold deeply (even if you lose your way sometimes) and finding a competitive strategy which capitalises on these, is more likely to bring success than trying to emulate a US-based start-up with 1500 employees.

In other words, you don’t have to be Michael Jordan to score a culture goal. You just need to figure our where your hoop is.


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Topics: Carolyn Taylor, Customer-Centric, Corporate culture, Culture planning, Brands

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