What is your goal in life? When different people are asked this question they usually respond with different answers like “I want to start a company” or “find a soulmate” or “be healthy”. After you decide on your answer I have a follow up question. Why? When people are asked why, they go further along their thought process with something like “to be rich”, or “to have someone to laugh with” or “to live longer”. My follow up question to that is…why? The interesting thing is that if you ask very different people why enough times, they will all eventually get to the same answer: to be happy.
For a book that primarily focused on Zappos’s culture and explaining why it’s basically heaven, it did touch on some deep life questions. In the book, Delivering Happiness the author Tony Shie, CEO of Zappos, spoke about his experiences as an entrepreneur, gave us some insight into the brain of the leader of a multi-billion dollar online shoe store, and talked about his thoughts on life and happiness. The opening paragraph of this post is Tony’s thoughts on life, detailed toward the end of this book.
For those new to Zappos, it is an amazon-like online store that is known as one of the coolest, fun, and engaging places to work in the US. The company has a “culture book” where all employees write a few paragraphs of what Zappos means to them and it is published annually by the company to the public, unedited. This blows my mind as I would imagine employees using this medium to degrade the company, their bosses, their recent disappointing raise, etc. Contrarily, management is flooded with amazing reviews, employee appreciation, or heart-warming insights from almost all employees. Do you think your company would have the same feedback?? How did the company, nay, the management accomplish this?
The majority of Delivery Happiness is Tony Shie trying to answer just that. He attempts to answer this by walking readers through his entire life, detailing all of his insights along the way. His insights are both entrepreneurial and philosophical. After reading the book, I believe Zappos’s amazing culture can be attributed to one overarching principle: empower all employees. All employees are treated as if they are part owners of the company. Full transparency on the company’s dealings are provided by management to all employees. Many of the great operational ideas that helped propel Zappos ahead of competitors were directly attributable to employee recommendations and insights. Employee insights did not just flourish because management asked for them. They flourished because management asked for them AND employees felt a direct connection as a part “owner” of the company. They were compelled to provide them.
In addition, management allows employees the freedom to express themselves at work and make decisions that they believe will be best for the company. By management allowing this they are taking risks. The more freedom that management grants employees, the less control they have on the exact product that will be provided to customers. For example, Zappos instructs their customer service representatives to “be themselves” on the phone and to use their discretion when providing customers with discounts and refunds. It sounds great but what is to stop a customer service representative from offending a customer, or providing too much free Zappos stuff? Answer: nothing. Amazingly, not only do employees not abuse this granted freedom but they actually provide substantially better customer service, as measured by the customers themselves, than if they read off of a script. This is because employees feel they have control and ownership; they are ONE with the Zappos. It is a beautiful thing and it makes my heart feel warm (aww). I believe that if management always attempts to reflect and act in this way, a successful and HAPPY organization will result.
If you are contemplating reading Delivery Happiness, I highly recommend it. If you are not so interested in the theory behind organizational effectiveness (I love it/I’m a nerd) do not fret. 75% of this book is Tony Shie describing his downright crazy childhood which involved selling a few companies prior to Zappos, one of which for multimillions. He is extremely inspiring and after hearing his thought process and what he has done, it will help compel you to do amazing things yourself. Come on…do amazing things already.
Before I sign off, I do want to touch upon my opening paragraph to this post. Happiness, I truly believe, should be the end-all for each and everyone of us. For Tony Shie, the pursuit of happiness led him to turn away tens of millions of dollars when he left Microsoft. For Zappos, happiness found its way to million of their customers and in turn helped propel Zappos and their happy employees to the next level. For me, achieving happiness is more important than any promotion or financial gain. Studying what makes us happy, aka positive psychology, takes up a lot of my time and thoughts. If happiness is the end-all for each of us, why wouldn’t we all spend time learning what actually makes us happy? In a future post I will talk about just that. And no…it’s not ONLY Twinkies.