The Zappo Case

Topics: Culture, Customer service, Organizational studies Pages: 7 (1941 words) Published: May 16, 2014
Zappos has been ranked as Fortune “Top 100 Best Companies to Work For” for more than 5 times, with its latest ranking at No. 31 in 2013 (Fortune, 2013). What makes this company such a wonderful place to work is its unique culture, where 10 core values (Exhibit 1) constantly remind its managers and employees what they are representing and standing for. Employees are called “team members” in Zappos (Frei, Ely and Winig, 2011). This paper will examine how “team members” are identified and trained to maintain the 10 core values. Selected values will be discussed in detail to further elaborate how Zappos lives its values through surface symbols and unspoken rules. Finally, we will look at its subcultures in two very distinctive departments: Call Center and Order Fulfillment Department.

Becoming a Zappos “Team Member”
Being an organization with such a unique culture, Zappos has a more challenging task in maintaining it, especially not to dilute it with new recruits. In order to make sure that the values got passed on from generations to generations, Zappos only search for those who understand the values and are willing to adopt them (Zappos family, 2013). “We are willing to hire and fire based on whether people are living up to those core values, independent of whether they’re doing their specific job function well enough.” said its CEO, Tony Hsieh (Frei, Ely and Winig, 2011). Socialization is a crucial process in cultural adoption, where members learn, understand and embrace the values and norms of an organization’s culture (Jones, 2013). Zappos sends its prospective employees and new hires various signals to help them socialize into the unique culture. A number of socialization tactics are also used in the process:  Prospective Employees:


Zappos’ Career Website itself sends a clear signal to its potential employees. There are questions like “does the shoe fit” asked to remind prospect employees that the company is only looking for those who can fit into their unique culture (Zappos job, 2013).


Interview Process: The initial application utilizes crossword puzzles and cartoon characters, rarely seen in other internet retailing companies’ application forms. It definitely says something about Zappos’ culture of “Create fun and a little weirdness”. Then, candidates will have to pass two interviews, a traditional skill-based interview and a culture interview, which is a behavioral-based interview where questions for each of the 10 values are designed in.

 New Hires:

A formal training of four weeks. Despite of function and level, all new hires are required to complete a four-week call center training. Failure in passing the training may lead to dismissal. Zappos uses a collective socialization tactic in this training process, where all newcomers get a common learning experience so that their attitudes toward customer service are standardized.


Pipeline courses. All entry level employees will be considered for promotion if they undertake 225 hours of training, which include courses like communication, stress management, and “science of happiness”. Formal and investiture socialization tactics are adopted here, where new hires can get formal classroom training on certain topics and obtain positive social support.


Cross training. In the Order Fulfillment Department, workers are cross-trained among functions on-the-job. Relatively informal, random and variable socialization tactics are exercised here, since newcomers learn on a need-base.

Living the Core Values
Corporate culture pioneer Edgar Schein created the Iceberg Model to explain the three levels of culture: artifacts & symbols, norms and deep values. Out of the ten values at Exhibit 1, this paper will focus on the below three values that are demonstrated as “living values” in the HBS case. By discussing their surface culture and unspoken rules, the paper tries to analyze how Zappos’ manage its core values.

 “Deliver WOW through...

References: Fortune. “100 Best Companies to Work For”. Fortune Magazine. Retrieved on 10/19/2013.
Frei, Ely and Winig. “ 2009: Clothing, Customer Service, and Company Culture”.
Harvard Business School. 6/27/2011.
Jones, Gareth R. “Organizational Theory, Design, and Change”. 7th edition. Pearson Education,
Inc. ISBN: 978-0-13-272994-9.
Zappos family. “Introducing: Core Values Frog!”. Jobs Retrieved on 10/18/2013.
Zappos job. “What’s it like to work at Zappos?”. Jobs Retrieved on 10/18/2013.
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