November 8, 2013

“Strangely enough, I really think that shoes are a communication tool between people.” ~ Christian Louboutin.

You may be wondering what shoes and candor have in common? A lot, especially in the case of Zappos is the world’s largest and most successful online shoe store and also has been ranked five years in a row as one of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies. Candor coincidence? Of course not.

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh (whom I had the great pleasure of hearing speak at the recent Gazelles FORTUNE Growth Summit in Las Vegas) leads a corporate culture based on core values that include “WOW” service, fun and creativity, passion, humility… and candor.  In fact, Zappos Family Core Value No. 6 reads:

Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication. Fundamentally, We Believe That Openness and Honesty Make For the Best Relationships Because That Leads To Trust and Faith.

While in Las Vegas, I took a tour of Zappos’ new downtown headquarters. I learned of so many things in their corporate culture that set the tone for practicing candor from the moment a potential employee walks through the door to the top leadership.

All new hires spend their first weeks in continuous customer service training. About midway through the training, some who will not make it are let go. The folks that Zappos wants to continue with the company are then offered two choices: to continue with Zappos or take a $3000 check to walk away. Sounds like a strange practice and a hefty fee for a company to pay to lose a good employee. But, the investment is worth it – it offers each candidate an incentive to be candid about their true intentions and immediately differentiates those who want a career and are passionate about the opportunity to join the Zappos team. Those that choose the job over the quick payout start off in a truthful way that matches the culture they are merging into.

And then there’s the Company Coach, Augusta. She wears a matching pink baseball cap and shirt with the word “coach” emblazoned on both and was roaming the building when we met her. I asked her to describe her job and she said she “helps her teammates discover.” Discover their passion, their creativity, new solutions, and ways of staying true to the values of the company. What an interesting concept – designating someone to help people be accountable to their own best success.

Tread lightly – candor is rampant at Zappos!