Has Zappos Taken Company Culture Too Far?

March 18, 2013

Zappos Company Culture: Shining Example or Too Much of a Good Thing?

Sure, it’s received nearly universal high marks, but does anyone else think Zappos company culture is over the top?

When most people first hear about Zappos.com’s unique corporate culture they blindly assume it must be magical. After all, everyone says so.
But has anyone else stopped to consider whether Zappos has actually taken things too far and gotten a little carried away with the Kool-Aid in the culture department? What Zappos is trying to achieve is a unique culture where their employees are free to be who they are — that is, so long as who they are correlates with who Zappos wants them to be. In my humble opinion, the online retail giant is actually teetering on the edge of becoming a cult.
(Okay, so in this post I am obviously playing devil’s advocate. But the question does bear asking…)
Let’s step back: If you are unaware of Zappos dedication to company culture, employees abide by the following core values:
1. Deliver WOW Through Service
2. Embrace and Drive Change
3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
5. Pursue Growth and Learning
6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
8. Do More With Less
9. Be Passionate and Determined
10.Be Humble
CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh, has been quoted saying that if employees do not fit the corporate culture they are fired (hear it from Hsieh himself on Inc.com). Hmm. It seems to me this is not being “Open-Minded,” as the values state.
It is important to have diversity within any organization. Diversity breeds new ideas, broadens people’s way of thinking, and moves a company forward. Hiring people who assimilate easily and who do not challenge the status quo for fear of losing their jobs is not diversity. And it certainly does not uphold core value #2, “Embrace and Drive Change.”

Should There Be a Limit to Interviewing and Reviewing Based on Cultural Fit?

Zappos company cultureThe process of interviewing at Zappos requires one interview with the hiring manager to assess skills and one interview to assess cultural fit. To skeptics, this may sound an awful lot like those mean high school girls who sit in the cafeteria and determine whether you are cool enough to sit with them.
I wonder how feedback goes when someone does not meet the threshold for cultural fit at Zappos, “Hey, sorry to tell you this Bob, but we don’t think you would create enough fun and weirdness here. Please apply again when you have kicked your weirdness up a notch.”
Even reviews at Zappos are based 50% on how the employee upholds the core culture — yep, that’s 50%. This means that with the remaining 50% Zappos is assessing how the employee actually did his or her job. So, you may be mediocre at best in your job, but if you are building a positive team and family spirit (see core value #7) then you are okay by Zappos.
At some point, a company like Zappos that is so focused on company culture has to plateau in terms of talent acquisition. At some point, you run out of the best and the brightest talent who also want to be held to a lengthy code of how to abide by their companies.
Yes, it is important to have a positive company culture, but taking it too far to the extreme can be detrimental and scare away the exact people you need to help you get ahead.

What do you think of the Zappos company culture? Is it over the top or is Tony Hsieh on to something?

Senior Corporate Recruiter

<strong>Lindsey Gurian</strong> is the Senior Corporate Recruiter at <a href="http://www.acquia.com">Acquia</a>. She was previously a Senior Talent Specialist at Sonian, responsible for recruiting initiatives at both the firm and its portfolio companies.