When Will Zappos Jump the Shark?

Paul Hebert Change, Culture, Current Affairs, Employee Relations, Engagement and Satisfaction, Good HR, Paul Hebert

Jumping the shark I probably don’t have to explain it but I will – jumping the shark is that moment when something goes from good to meh, from cool to something your Dad says too often and thinks is funny, from relevant to irrelevant.

Now, if you belong to any LinkedIn groups associated with HR, or follow any blogs (including this one) that have any connection to HR – or even if you’ve lived in a cave for 20 years – you’ve seen Zappos on a pedastal as THE way to drive employee engagement.  Zappos is the company everyone wants to be and every girl/guy wants to be with. Zappos is the holy grail of employee engagement.

I know for many it is totally wrong to ask this but… is Zappos ready to jump the shark?

Hold tight – I’m sure there was a disturbance in the force the minute those words hit the Google.  But stay with me here folks.

Don’t get me wrong – they are very, very good at engaging their employees.  They have found the “not-so-secret-sauce” that creates a connection between their brand, their customers and their employees.  I say it as “not-so-secret” because it’s been around since Herzberg talked about the Two-Factor Theory in the 1960’s.

And Google was the poster child before them –before they started needing pure unadulterated cash to keep employees.

And Enron before that – when they were on Fortunes Best Places to Work for three years running – 1999, 2000, 2001.

I’m not saying Zappos is Enron.

Not even close.

What I am saying is that as an HR pro, you cannot think you will ever turn your organization INTO Zappos.  You can’t.  And that is why I wonder when the realization will hit HR folks that Zappos isn’t the answer to your issues with employee engagement.

What Zappos is doing is the answer to THEIR issue of employee engagement.

The other night on the #HRHappyHour blogtalkradio show hosted by Boese and Minion (I think that has a ring to it no?  Boese and Minion in the morning!)  Jamie Naughton from Zappos was on the show talking about how they drive engagement at their offices.  Great stuff and it works really well for them.  I like what Zappos is doing.  They are a smart, smart group of folks.

But one comment was made that I think was missed by many – and that was from Jamie – she said that what they do at Zappos works for them but it’s not for everyone.  Then the questions went back to what Zappos does and how to do that at other companies.  I think folks missed that very important point.

The answer isn’t doing what Zappos does.  It’s doing what is right for your company.

Don’t copy Zappos.

Don’t do what they are doing.

Creating versus Changing

Zappos built their culture to be what it is.  If you are working in HR at a company with more than a few hundred employees and more than 5 years of history I’m gonna save you some time here – don’t follow the Zappos plan.  Don’t do parades.  Don’t do tours of the offices.  Don’t offer people $2,000 to quit.  It won’t work for you.

You already have a culture.  You may need to change your culture.  And changing a culture is a much different issue than building one.

My concern is that I think we’re going to see many companies adopt activities that are similar to Zappos and see them fail miserably because what Zappos does isn’t what you should do.  What you need to do is find those things that resonate with your existing culture – and move them toward what you want your culture to be.

You are not Zappos.  You are you.

Manifest Your Coolness – Not Theirs

There will always be the new darling of employee engagement.  At one time it was Google.  Before that it was SAS (although they’re still hanging strong – mental note:  research them again.)

Zappos is a cool company with a cool culture.  But you’re not Zappos and you shouldn’t be. You should, however, understand the core connection Zappos has – not the things that are visible and easy to copy.  Those are manifestations of the core things you should be paying attention to.  Take those core things like respect, communication, transparency – and find your own way of making them visible.

I don’t know when Zappos will jump the shark – but I’m sure they will – not as a company – but as an exemplar of what “all” companies should be.

Okay – ring the Secret Service- I think I’m gonna need some protection now that I’ve dissed Zappos.

Paul Hebert

Paul Hebert is Vice President of Individual Performance Strategy at Creative Group Inc, writer, speaker and consultant. Paul focuses on influencing behaviors and driving business results through employees, channel partners and consumers. He is dedicated to creating true emotional connections often overlooked in our automated, tech-enabled world. Using proven motivational theory, behavioral economics and social psychology he has driven extraordinary company performance for his clients. Paul is widely considered an expert on motivation, incentives, and engagement.