Team Building with Happiness
It's not often that a leader who starts a company and sells it 10 years later for almost a billion dollars shares the proceeds with employees. But it happened in July 2009 when Amazon.com purchased Zappos.com for $850 million.
On July 15, I interviewed Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh for a team culture book I am writing. And on July 26, I had the great pleasure to attend a presentation where Tony shared one of his company's founding principles. It is a principle that supports his company's core values and core business functions. The principle is Happiness. Here are some of the insights he shared with me.
Tony is extremely well read and has studied many frameworks on Happiness. But two have influenced Zappos hiring and promotion practices and serve as an inspiration for employee development.
Within the Zappos team culture, happiness thrives in an environment where employees have perceived control of their work life, they perceive they are making progress in their careers, feel a sense of connectedness and belonging, and have a vision for their lives that gives their lives meaning.
In actual practice, Zappos.com employees are given control over their work space and career advancement. If you tour the company Monday through Thursday you will see that entire departments decorate along themes that are fun and somewhat wacky. For example, the executive team occupies the same size cubicle space as all other team members. And this department's unique style is a jungle with vines and lots of bananas for resident monkeys to snatch.
Likewise employee advancement is self-directed. This means that since most employees are hired at Zappos.com as entry level employees, they choose to move forward through learning tracts that take six months to complete, but can culminate in high level team positions within three years.
Likewise, the sense of connectedness or belonging is inherent at Zappos. Tony explained that it is a practice to offer all employees who are within their 90-day evaluation period $2,000 to quit. They are offered the $2,000 on a Friday and are expected to return the following Monday with their decision. They talk to their family and reflect on what being a Zappos employee would mean for their lives. And, although a few have taken Zappos up on the offer, most stay.
Tony said he has tossed around the notion that the company needs to offer the under 90-day employee even more money to quit. He claims it saves his company the inconvenience of retaining employees who are not fully committed to the company and the culture. However, he says the biggest benefit is that employees - given that it is their choice to receive $2,000 or join the company -- become more committed to the company and its success. And, it helps them understand the commitment other employees have made as well and what it means to belong to a unique team culture that feels much like a stable and healthy family.
With this employee commitment come greater opportunities to envision meaning for one's life. Because the culture supports cooperation and happiness, it also supports doing the right thing for customers, venders, family, and the community at large. Nirvana? No. But employees are given the environment and support to grow personally and professionally with fellow employees who are rewarded and recognized for their kindness, commitment and humility.
Within Tony's construct of happiness, employees are given a job, which they make a career and when supported by Zappos culture find life meaning in their career or a sense of purpose.
This notion comes from Hsieh's second happiness construct, which is based on three levels of happiness.
The first is the Rock Star level where happiness comes from acquiring things and achieving goals. This is a highly illusive level because once something is acquired or a goal is achieved, the happiness tends to ware off. This means that a person is constantly looking for the next high and tends to be more of a human "doing" than a human "being."
The second comes from being fully engaged in an activity. Hsieh refers to flow where a person is so engaged that time flies. This happens frequently to me with my writing, when I am in the zone giving a seminar or gardening. I will check the time and think 20 minutes have passed and in reality I have been working for hours totally contented and engrossed in what I am doing.
The third level is meaning or higher purpose. It is something that you would do whether you are paid or not. Writing this article is like that. I love to inspire and am fully committed to a higher level of doing business that gives people meaning. Mentoring is like that. Volunteering for a higher cause is like that. Creating a legacy is like that.
Zappos inspires employees to look for meaning in their work that is connected to a higher purpose. This helps employees become more engaged and in the flow. Buying and acquiring things becomes the icing on the cake because employees are well compensated, and find greater meaning in their work with higher trust, interdependence, genuineness, empathy, risk and success than simply receiving a timely pay check.
Building a happiness inspired culture is not a difficult thing to do. For Zappos.com it is the secret sauce that launched an empire.