Understanding Company Culture with Zappos

Have you ever wondered how Zappos became renowned for being one of the best places to work in the country with a leading company culture?

In 2009, Zappos debuted at #23 on Fortune’s list of “100 Best Companies to Work For.” Two years later, they had climbed 17 spots to snag #6, cozying up to companies like Google and NetApp that were ranked in the top five.

So, what were they suddenly doing so differently?

In 2005, Zappos welcomed a man named Dr. David Vik— otherwise known as “Doc”— to the team. As Zappos’ full-time culture coach, Dr. Vik preached his vision: “to empower people and companies.”

And in 2013, Dr. Vik published a book called The Culture Secret.

A little fun fact? David is also one of Fond’s closest advisors. Fond’s CEO and co-founder, Taro Fukuyama, continues to work closely with Dr. Vik to help inspire companies to create empowering work environments for their employees and develop their own unique company cultures.

Interested in hearing some of Doc’s secrets? Here are the steps Dr. Vik recommends in The Culture Secret for taking your business to the next level.

Step 1: Articulate Your Company’s Vision

“The act or power of anticipating that which will or may come to be. Once a vision is clearly articulated, allow the people to create it.”1

Your company’s vision statement should articulate the direction your company is headed and why it matters. A great statement is concise, easy to recite, and echoes what the company stands for.

For example, Ikea’s vision statement is: “To create a better everyday life for the many people.”

It’s simple and clear. Does it stand by their brand? Yes. Is it easy to boost living standards for “the many people?” Definitely not. So while their vision accurately represents their current brand, it also continually challenges its employees to live up to an ambitious standard. It supports the overall company culture Ikea wants to create.

Give your employees something to strive for—a grand challenge that they can look forward to conquering with their team. Your company’s vision should be your employees’ guiding light.

Step 2: Clarify Your Company’s Purpose

“The aim, intention, or reason for which something is done or made. If something is done without purpose, there is no reason to do it.”1

While your vision is where you see your company going, your purpose is why you want to get there. Let’s take Google as an example: “We organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” What does Google strive to do? They exist to “organize the world’s information.”

Why do they do it? In order to “make [the world’s information] universally accessible and useful.” This is the company’s purpose.

So ask yourself, what is your company trying to achieve? What are your values? Is it heroic? Is it to be environmentally friendly? Is it to change the world? What does your company culture look like? Dr. Vik says, “When everyone knows it, they can get behind it, and then they don’t have to be told what to do.”

Good purpose will rally your employees and customers as well as attract them to your company.

Step 3: Craft a Business Model that Engages Your Employees

“Poorly is as poorly treated does. And poorly treated employees treat customers the same way.”1

Your relationship with your employees directly reflect your relationship with your customers.

Unfortunately, companies that don’t adapt to fit new circumstances and new economic environments cannot survive. Part of that means understanding that today, your employees are the most important asset of your company, and how you treat them (and what kind of company culture you create) will greatly affect your bottom line.

Take care to create a rewarding environment for your employees to work in. Ensure that each individual not only understands their role in the company, but feels they are a key driver in the company’ success.

Step 4: Uncover Your Company’s Unique, “WOW Factor”

What does your company offer its employees and customers that others don’t?

Think of ways to make your company culture stand out, whether it’s amazing customer service, fun freebies, new products, or exclusivity.

Dr. Vik explains of his experience at Zappos: “You’re a king in your life, you were built and born to reach your potential, and I wanted [the employees] to feel that. It started with the employees, and they delivered it to our clients.”

Create a positive experience rather than solely focusing on the product you’re trying to sell. Let that positivity speak for itself when selling your brand; this will inevitably lead to higher recruitment and retention within your company.

Step 5: Recognize that Culture is Embedded in Your Company’s Identity

Human Resources may get a less-than-exciting rep, but — according to Dr. Vik — the truth is that HR can empower its team and create a can-do mindset.

“Sixty-seven percent of relationships are broken because of one word: indifference.”1 And isn’t that unfortunate?

So an essential takeaway of The Culture Secret is this: your company culture is ultimately tied directly to everything your company does and stands for.

Without a positive, working, healthy company culture, your company cannot provide anything better to its customers. Who better to do this than HR?


1Vik, David. The Culture Secret. Austin: Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2013. Print.