Culture Trumps Skill Set Always at Zappos

August 9, 2019

1) You are a featured speaker at our Unstoppable Cultures Fellowship in November 2019 in Santa Fe, New Mexico!  Can you give us a headline about your key message and what participants can expect?

My message is about the Zappos story and how we became focused on a culture of service. Attendees can expect to think differently when it comes to culture, to be challenged with trusting that there is an ROI on investing in culture, and to learn how culture-building should be incorporated into your daily operations.

2) Zappos is renowned for its Culture.  Tell us about that passion and the decision to offer leadership training to other organizations.

My team is so passionate about this. We found that there were a lot of other organizations very interested in hearing about the Zappos approach to business, our customer service philosophy, and our very unique culture. So, Zappos Insights was created in 2009 to help share the Zappos culture with the world. And when we say that, it’s not about wanting all organizations to be just like Zappos – quite the opposite. We want to help other companies strengthen their own unique culture and values. Zappos Insights, the team that I currently work on, is a business within the business of Our main purpose is to inspire organizations to make work better and more fulfilling. At the end of it all, we want people to love where they work and be happy.

Learn more about Zappos’ core values here.

3) If you had to narrow down the “inside secrets” about Zappos’ success in customer service and Culture, what would you share as the Top 3 game changers other organizations could follow?

A lot of what we do is not about re-inventing the wheel, it’s about keeping it simple. Our “secret sauce” isn’t so secret, because I think everybody already has it and just needs to be reminded of it. The first game changer for Zappos is to define your culture and commit to it. You can have values but if there’s no commitment to those values, then they become a moot point. That’s the most important thing – to find your culture and commit to it. The second game changer is that if you get the right people, you’ll get the right culture. We hire based on culture and culture trumps skill set always in our hiring process. You want employees who are in line with the company’s values. The candidate can be the best of the best, heavily sought after by other organizations, but if that candidate isn’t in line with our core values we just won’t hire them and we stand by that. We have a stringent process that ensures we get the right people because the right people equals the right culture. In fact, our CEO, Tony Hsieh, often says it’s harder to get hired at Zappos than it is to get into Harvard – and he went to Harvard so I think he can say that! The third game changer is in regards to our customer service, which is all about connections for us – that’s truly our holy grail. Our Wow customer service philosophy is about building connections with everyone we interact with. And it’s not just externally with the guests, vendors, and customers but internally, it’s a big deal to have that connection with fellow employees. Those connections are felt and experienced by our external customers, and they’re a key part of why our customer service is so effective.

 4) Creating a strong Culture requires intense focus, but maintaining a Culture through an acquisition (Zappos was acquired by Amazon in 2009 for $940 million) can be daunting. What advice would you give to other organizations experiencing such change?

I was with Zappos when we were acquired and the biggest thing is to be transparent – communicate  with the employees and provide as much information as possible as soon as it’s allowed to be shared. One of our core values is actually to embrace and drive change. Change is scary no matter what but if people are informed it helps put them at ease. When we were acquired, Tony, our CEO, immediately addressed one of the biggest concerns that the employees had at the time: what’s going to happen to our culture? That was certainly the first thought I had when I learned the news: we are who we are because of our culture and if we’re acquired by Amazon, a large company with a culture that was unknown to me, what will become of us? So, that was a scary thing for all of us but Tony was transparent and explained that during the acquisition process, our culture was a non-negotiable. It was going to remain just as it was. Amazon knew that they were acquiring a company with a unique culture and with service as its main focus; that sense of alignment is key for a successful merger or acquisition.

5) Since shoes are still a key component of Zappos’ business, we have to know about your relationship with shoes!  

Oh, it’s so unhealthy. I’m the type of person who genuinely gets really excited about shoes and handbags. I think most Zappos employees would probably say the same thing. My husband will never understand why I need multiple colors of the exact same shoe. I’ve been employed with Zappos for almost 12 years and I’m really afraid to see the total amount I’ve spent here – I’m pretty sure I just work for shoes and handbags. Ironically, our CEO, Tony, he actually states that he literally still only has two pairs of shoes! He’s a t-shirt and jeans guy.

About Erica Javellana

Erica Javellana joined the Human Resources department at in 2007, where she quickly distinguished herself with her HR knowledge and her ability to blend HR and the Zappos culture. Erica’s HR role at Zappos as the Employee Relations Manager helped to create an unconventional Human Resources team that is both “fun and a little weird”.  She is currently sharing her knowledge of the Zappos Culture and Service in her role as Speaker of The House for Zappos Insights.  Prior to joining Zappos, Erica had over 10 years of experience in Human Resources within the retail, hotel/casino, and food and beverage industries.

When she’s not sharing the impact of company culture in the workplace, you can find her reading on her Kindle, cheering on her Vegas Golden Knights hockey team, or doing high intense cardio to compensate for her deep love of nachos and beer.

Together, we truly can build Unstoppable Cultures!


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