How Companies Can Establish Their Core Values

In my 12 years at Zappos, I’ve helped set up the recruiting program to scour the planet for people who are fun and a little weird. I helped develop the company’s 10 Core Values and the Zappos Core Values Interview Assessment — a critical component of the Zappos hiring process. And currently, I lead a team that helps inspire other companies to make work better and more fulfilling for themselves and their employees. We call that team Zappos Insights.

Zappos Insights was born in 2009 and is the part of Zappos that has one very special mission: to share Zappos’ unique focus on Culture, People and Customer Service with other companies. Not because we feel all companies should be like Zappos — we’re not a perfect company, nor have we ever claimed to be — but because we’d like to share how you can identify your company values, and in doing so, learn how to create a successful and profitable organization where work is much better than a daily grind.

So, here’s where I share those insights. Zappos has made a name for itself by accomplishing a few very important things early on in our history. They’re practices that we make a conscious decision to embody every day, even 18 years after our founding. Yep, they’re not things you can check off a to-do list and forget about — they’re forever commitments. Here are a few of them:

  • Focus on a higher purpose than just the almighty dollar. For Zappos, it was always about working for a company that cared about us as employees. Identify your company’s core values, then commit to them: hire by them, train and immerse new hires in them, quickly and humanely exit people who don’t live them and then empower your employees and get out of their way.
  • Care about doing what’s right for your customers. For us, that meant caring about the fact that customers wanted to be able to try on their shoes (or clothing), see how they looked, felt and fit — and if it wasn’t a match, to not be stuck with them. Rather than doing what was easy and common in our industry, we decided to make returns free and easy for our customers.
  • Be a partner in your community, both locally and in the world at large. Use good judgment and responsible, common sense when making decisions that impact your community. For example… when you find something that works well for your company’s culture and people, pass it on to other companies; help other companies find ways to make their customers and employees happier.

TL;DR? Here’s a summary: If we were the customer, wary of buying shoes without trying them on first, what would make us okay with buying shoes online? If we were any employee, going into work every day, what would encourage us to WOW customers day in and day out? We have proof that this thinking works, true stories of employees parading through the office who love going to work at Zappos, of brand partners that love partnering with Zappos and of customers who love shopping with Zappos. The proof is in the people, not the pudding.

But truthfully, when we started trying to get people to buy shoes online in 1999, the answer to building a successful, fun, happy company around that premise wasn’t obvious. “Without trying them on first….?! Never!” said the people in an uproar. “Without people being able to try them on first?! Never!” said the shoemakers. But we didn’t let that defeat us. We found a higher purpose, put in the care, and partnered with the community — and it worked. So, 10 years later, we formed Zappos Insights to share what we’d learned.

Values aren’t the same for every company, and they don’t cement themselves overnight. But if you identify yours now and start focusing on them every day… we know that you and your team will love going to work just like we do.

Christa Foley is the Culture Adviser & Director of Insights at Zappos. Want to learn how to learn more about establishing core values for your company? Check out Zappos Insights’ campus tours, live training events, keynote speakers, mentors and more at https://www.zapposinsights.com/.

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