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Can we be like Zappos.com? If the shoe fits

Meeting Tony Hsieh was definitely an interesting experience and brought with it some intriguing insights.

As I thought about what I might ask Tony, I realized this task might be better if I had the company involved. So instead of drafting questions, I invited the staff to help me. I offered them links to information on Zappos.com and then asked them what they would like to ask Tony. As a result, the Trimark staff generated the questions in the accompanying video.

As I spoke with Tony I started to appreciate that the culture at Zappos.com was not solely a reflection of him. In fact, the company has clearly taken on a life of its own despite his big influence, but it remains grounded in its core values.

That simple point made a large impact on me personally. I sometimes think a business filled with people just like me would be boring. We need the variety and the individual quirks that make life at work more interesting.

While I may try to live every core value to its fullest potential, I know that some people are ultimately more aligned with different values and make the entire team complete. This notion that the president or CEO needs to be all things to all people is daunting, and it was a relief to realize that different people need to bring different things to the company to create its culture.

After the interview I began reflecting on whether we could in fact incorporate our core values to our bonus structure. It is certainly not a common practice, but having the core values as part of our performance evaluation necessarily affects the staff directly. I like the idea that half of the bonus structure is weighted on “how” you accomplish your work (tying to the core values) and the other half is based on “what” you accomplished.

Risk was another area that provided me with great insights. When we think of risk from a HR or legal perspective we often think to protect the company, but the fact is we have a team that is constantly buying millions of dollars of inventory, and the financial risks they are taking are far greater than our typical HR risks.

With that in perspective I took to the idea of constantly asking “Why not?” This simple question pushes people to rethink and re-evaluate the way they have always done things. Later, at our national sales meeting, I asked “Why not?” to almost anything. I learned that the staff is generally reluctant to take risks in an effort to protect the company, just as Tony had suggested.

While on one hand that is fabulous for the risk-averse, this mindset can produce barriers that limit the experience our customers receive; in the big picture the majority of risks are worth it.

Thus we are back to training.

Two examples that came from our sales meeting were allowing the sales force to make pricing decisions within a few parameters and questioning reps as to why they need a printed catalogue in today’s world of digital media. Almost all sales reps, if asked, say they want more pricing authority, but surprisingly very few took it once we gave it to them. We are tracking who uses these additional tools and will be analyzing the effects so people feel comfortable making these types of decisions in the future.