This Quirky Game Helps Shape Zappos’ Legendary Culture

Tony hsieh zappos ceo
Tony Hsieh Getty Images/Ethan Miller

When you log into the computer system at most companies, it’s a simple matter of username and password. But when you’re booting up at Zappos, there’s a culture-building third step called the Face Game.

The game goes like this: A picture of a fellow employee pops up, and you’re asked to guess the right name out of a handful of options.

Then, whether or not you guess correctly, you get treated to the person’s profile and bio.

As founder Tony Hsieh writes in “Delivering Happiness,” Zappos plays the Face Game “so that everyone can learn more about each other. Although there is no penalty for giving the wrong answer, we do keep a record of everyone’s score.”

For a glimpse of the Face Game, watch this video:

As iDoneThis founder and culture blogger Walter Chen notes, the Face Game helps to preserve Zappos’ tight-knit, family-like atmosphere as it has grown from being a small startup to a full-fledged, 1,500 person company.

The Face Game is an example of using software code to “reinforce cultural values in individual workflow,” Chen writes. It’s also an example of “gamification” at work that actually works.

As Wharton management professors Ethan Mollick and Nancy Rothbard have found, poorly done gamification can aggravate employees, while well-done gamification motivates them.

An example of bad gamification might be a mandatory company-wide foosball tournament. Like an off-site retreat or the company holiday party, the game is only “dubiously fun” since it’s required. That violates the very idea of funness, Mollick tells Business Insider, since it’s no longer a fun activity when it’s mandatory.

But in this case with Zappos, the Face Game is quick, easy, and aligned with the culture.

“That’s an example of a lightweight game where if you buy into it, it helps build a nice company culture,” Mollick says, “but if you don’t, it doesn’t hurt.”