Ten Core Values Drive Zappos

'Culture is the driver for our success.'

July 1, 2014

“Culture is the driver for our success,” said Jon Wolske, culture evangelist for Zappos Insights—a department within the Zappos family of companies which shares the Zappos culture with the world.

Zappos is known primarily as an online shoe and clothing retailer, but it’s really a service company that happens to sell shoes and other items, explained Wolske, who addressed the 2014 CUNA CFO Council Conference in May.

“Culture defines who you are, not what you do,” Wolske said. “It’s all about the attitudes, values, and behaviors that characterize your company. You need to define the behavior that makes your culture. We want core values we can coach, and that we’re willing to hire and fire on.”

Zappos’ 10 core values are:

1. Deliver “WOW” through service. This means exceeding customers’ expectations, Wolske said.

Such efforts can be simple and inexpensive. Wolske cited a “WOW” experience during a recent visit to his financial institution, where he struck up a conversation with a teller.

“She asked about my dog, which is a boxer/pit bull mix,” he explained. “It was only about a three-minute conversation, but it created an experience for me.”

2. Embrace and drive change when there’s a clear reason why. Change is constant in a growing company.

3. Create fun—and a little weirdness. Zappos encourages staff to be fun and unconventional.

“This can be a hard sell to some executives,” Wolske conceded. “But weirdness just shows that we’re different people. We know you’ll work hard—but not too hard.”

One way Zappos creates fun is by hosting staff parades every so oft en to commemorate certain events—such as the anniversary of Woodstock, where staff marched through the Zappos headquarters blasting ’60s-era music.

4. Be adventurous, creative, and open-minded. “We encourage staff to take risks,” Wolske said.

5. Pursue growth and learning. Zappos brings in speakers on a variety of topics—including motivational speaker Tony Robbins—to expand employees’ horizons.

“This is huge for us,” he said. “We bring in folks just to hear about different ideas—including a guy who did origami. I was skeptical at first, but I learned so much about teamwork from him.”

6. Build open and honest relationships with communication. Be both a good listener and a good communicator.

And when addressing performance problems, focus on changing behavior rather than assigning blame.

“It’s too easy to focus on the negative,” Wolske said. “You should manage your money and coach your people.”

7. Build a positive team and family spirit. “I check in with my team whenever I’m on the road—I Skype with them throughout,” he said. “I work in the same area with my wife—and we still get along.”

8. Do more with less, and realize there’s always room for improvement.

9. Be passionate and determined. Place an emphasis on passion, determination, perseverance, and a sense of urgency.

10. Be humble. “Our CEO has the same size desk that I do,” Wolske said. “He’s another team member at Zappos who happens to make big decisions.”