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by Aman Singh Das | July 21, 2010


Does your company have an HR handbook? Chances are, you'rethinking yes, of course. What about a culture book for employees? Zappos does.

The company, which started by selling shoes a decade ago, istoday an Amazon subsidiary and has expanded to a multitude of merchandising. Itis also probably one of very few companies to grow its brand around an idea oftransparency, ethics and collaborative culture. For Tony Hsieh, cofounderand current CEO of Zappos, this was intentional from Day 1. In his recentlyreleased book Delivering Happiness: APath to Profits, Passion, and Purpose—which I will be reviewing in thecoming days here In Good Company—Hsiehdevotes a whole chapter to the Zappos Culture Book.

In short, the book contains employee interpretations of whattheir company's culture is all about and how it is different to othercompanies.And this is no mere PRexercise, designed to make the company look good: all of the entries receivedwere inserted with minimal editing, even when they were anonymously submitted.Of course, Hsieh took a risk; no company is perfect and since culture isperceptional, the initiative could have resulted in a mudslinging sessiondirected at Zappos management.

But it didn’t. While the majority of the entries werepositive, not every employee was thrilled with the company's culture—and thatwas reflected in the book. Hsieh, as promised, inserted both the criticism andthe positive feedback when creating Zappos' first Culture Book. His aim: To showexisting and new employees what working there is all about, including the good,the bad and the ugly. In fact, much to his delight, the book has beendownloaded by people who don’t even work at Zappos.

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh blogs regularly as well as staying engaged with customers and employees via Twitter

The company produces a new Culture Book every year. ForHsieh it epitomizes the evolution of the company's brand over its shortexistence. "We wanted to be as transparent as possible, so we decided thatnone of the entries would be censored or edited, except for typos. Everyedition of our culture book includes both the good and the bad so that peoplereading the book can get a real sense of what our culture is like. With eachedition, it would also be a way of documenting how our culture was evolvingover time."

The idea of a culture book isn't unique; it is Zappos'treatment of transparency and accountability as a priority that makes thisworth noting. Most companies conduct some form of employee survey to gaugeproblem points and get feedback on what's working. However, publishing itwithout censorship in a publicly available document is what makes Hsieh'sapproach sustainable. Even if it isn't popular in every C-suite.

Asa manager, how open are you to engaging your team in positive criticism? Withnew generations stepping into the workforce every year, ideas are bound toconstantly evolve, but are management styles redefining and realigningaccordingly? Whether you call it corporate responsibility, sustainability, orsomething else entirely, it doesn’t need highly designed websites and adcampaigns to work. It can start small: like spearheading a collaborative andtransparent workplace culture. But it has to start from the top.

Hsieh puts it succinctly, "Even today, our belief is that our Brand, ourCulture, and our Pipeline are the only competitive advantages that we will havein the long run. Everything else can and will eventually be copied."

Join the discussion by leaving a comment, emailing Vault or connecting with me @VaultCSR.


Filed Under: CSR

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