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The Zappos approach to employee meetings

"...and I'm also a customer"
"...and I'm also a customer"
Susan C. Rink

I love Zappos. I love their selection, their easy-to-use website, and their free two-way shipping…a very important value-add for someone who with a hard-to-fit foot.

I also love Zappos for their culture. They are the “happiness” retailer, with corporate values like “Create Fun and a Little Weirdness,” “Deliver WOW through Service” and “Be Humble.”

I also love that their values are printed on outside of their packing boxes. In fact, the box that arrived today has “Value #6 – Build Open and Honest Relationships with Communication.”

Words to live by, indeed.

Last week, Zappos held a Quarterly All-Hands Meeting for their employees. I’m sure that hundreds of U.S. companies did the same. But there were some marked differences between the Zappos meeting and one attended by the employees of XYZ, Inc., the biggest difference being that the meeting was broadcast live on UStream and is available for anyone to view.

So of course, I had to watch it. After all, in addition to being a loyal Zappos customer, I’m also an employee communications geek. And after watching how CEO Tony Hsieh and his team communicate to their employees, I’m seriously thinking about sending in my resume.

At first glance, the Zappos meeting follows a fairly typical agenda: team leaders celebrate performance milestones, executives answer questions, product teams demonstrate new items, and guest speakers provide new information and perspectives.

But the Zappos meeting leaves “typical” in the dust, reflecting their unique culture.

It starts with the name of the event, the “Zappos Family All-hands” meeting and carries through to the casual dress (most of the presenters in jeans and tee shirts) and conversational tone. Hseih and his fellow executives answer questions directly and present financial info in plain terms, no jargon.

Their open communications value is evident in the Q&A session, where executives answer “me” questions (including one about picnic benches at one of the buildings) with the same level of respect as questions about growth and new products.

The positive team spirit value is demonstrated by the rally-like atmosphere of the event and is further reinforced when a Zappos team leader who suffered a life-threatening injury earlier in the year returns to the stage to talk about the many ways his Zappos family members supported him during his recovery. I’ll admit it; I teared up a bit at that point.

Finally, the values of creativity and open-mindedness are evident in the second half of the meeting, when a professional origami artist talks about art and technology, creativity and problem-solving, and teamwork and how to apply those concepts to their workplace.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying the Zappos model can be applied to every workplace. In fact, when I wrote about the Zappos culture earlier this year, I argued that companies cannot replicate another organization’s culture, since culture is something that grows organically from within.

Regardless of your company’s culture, I believe there are best practices from the Zappos Family All-hands meeting that can be applied to your workplace. All you need to do is tap into your company’s culture and find ways to replicate your culture in the tone and content of your meetings.

Or you can call the origami guy.

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