Companies don’t become great because of what they sell. More often than not, they become great because of how they sell the product. And a lot of the methodology in knowing how to sell one’s product comes from a thriving work culture which instills these qualities. It is well documented that the strongest cultures attract and keep talented people. A sturdy culture gets stronger while a conflicted culture brings with it weakness.


So, what’s the secret to build a great work environment? Does it involve multi-course meals and a hi-tech gym at the work space? Does it involve dine-outs every weekend to get together? Or does it involve Nap Pods for tired staff to take power naps between meetings? It’s much simpler than that.


Tony Hsieh has been at the helm of Zappos, one of the world’s largest online retail marketplaces for footwear,  for many years as their CEO and during numerous interviews he has said that their company’s number 1 priority is company culture. His belief is that if a company gets their work culture right, most of the other things like delivering unparalleled customer service or building a long-term enduring brand will just happen naturally on it’s own.

tony hsieh

Getting the right fit didn’t come to Hsieh on his first day at work. After quitting Oracle because of the monotonous work culture there, he started LinkExchange, an internet advertising cooperative. At LinkExchange, he hired the best minds, but yet, something was missing – A thriving work culture. It was so bad that even a workaholic like Tony did not feel like getting out of his bed to go to work due to the unmotivated nature of his work. After selling LinkExchange to Microsoft, Hsieh moved on to work at Zappos and as soon as he joined the online retailer, he made it imperative that focus at the company would be on work culture and ever since has taken the company to greater heights.

Hsieh shares his top pointers to have a prospering Work Culture:


It’s Not About The Shoes

75 percent of Zappos customers are repeat customers. That shows that their customer service is top draw. A popular story that went viral some time ago was of a customer being sent flowers by Zappos because they received news of his mother’s death via an email conversation with a customer care representative. The company should not be remembered for what they sell, but by the customer service they provide. He suggests not competing on price, but competing on that customer service so that whatever industry he enters: he aspires not to be the cheapest but the best.


Establishing Culture Early

As boss of Zappos, Hsieh believed in doing hires on his own. This involved a generic interview questionnaire so that the applicants could be evaluated. But he doesn’t stop there – Hsieh then evaluates himself with respect to the applicant and then sees whether the person would be a good fit for the organization or whether he would himself get along well with the prospective applicant.

He says,

“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.”

There are many companies that work on work-life separation or work-life balance but Hsieh believes in “work-life integration”, because at the end of the day, this is daily life and if one is spending a long time at their workplace, then they better be enjoying the time they’re spending there. That way, positivity rubs off in one’s personal life as well their work life.
He says, “We want the person to be the same person at home or in the office because what we’ve found is that’s when the great ideas come out, that’s when their creativity shines and that’s when true friendships are formed – not just coworker relationships. When people are in that environment, that’s when the passion comes out and that’s really what’s driven a lot of our growth over the years.”


The Importance Of Forming Company Values

It is important to have every employee on the same page. There is an old saying in business parlance, “you can’t have deeply engaged customers without having deeply engaged employees.”

Company Values are therefore important, but Tony Hsieh, like so many other things, has a different opinion on this concept. He says that what doesn’t matter what a person’s values are, as long as they have them. His suggestion to new employees is to figure out what their personal values are and then align the company around it. Just figure out what your own personal values are and then make that your corporate value for your company. Company values also help in attracting new prospective hires who connect with your company on a spiritual level.


On Making Sure One Hires The Right People

As it is with most big-booming companies, Zappos takes care of their prospective hires well and often send across a personal car to the airport to pick up a prospective employee. What Zappos does is it takes feedback from the driver whether the person was cordial and nice. And if the driver replies in the negative, chances are the person won’t be hired because he wouldn’t be a good fit in the company’s larger scheme of things. Hsieh also mentions the importance of asking personal questions during an interview. Vulnerable answers often show more insight to a person’s calibre than other academic and professional answers. It also shows the prospect that the company cares.

Don’t be afraid to pass on good candidates who are not fitting into your culture: how one person impacts ninety-nine others is as important as what amount of business he or she is bringing in.

Zappos often pays new employees to quit if they feel the employee isn’t fitting in well. That’s how committed they are. Around 2-3 percent of all employees offered this have actually accepted this, though. But it shows who’s in there for the paycheck and who is in there to create a larger societal impact through their work.


Importance of Happiness for Productivity

A company is very happy if their employers are happy and their customers are happier. Hsieh suggests that there are four things that make people happy and their job roles should be such that they feel that way and they are Perceived Control, Perceived Progress, Connectedness and Vision. Perceived control is the sense of feeling for an employee that they have control over what they’re doing. People often suffer from the self-doubt that they are losing control over their tasks. Perceived progress is the sort of feeling employees should get that they are improving at their work. A pat on the back or a recognition during a weekly meeting usually works wonders. Connectedness and Vision suggests that an employee should feel that the person and his or her work is part of a bigger scheme of things. that way the employee remains motivated to do good, positive work.


A thorough professional, these insights from Tony Hsieh can be utilized by any entrepreneur for their company’s growth. These useful tips by him have helped shape three of his own companies and countless companies around the world. At the end when asked what makes the best businesses, Hsieh aptly responds “The best businesses are really ones that can combine passion, profits, and purpose,” thus bringing in a full circle to the three core concepts in business.


Learn more from him here:



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