Zappos’ Tony Hsieh Says Creating A Great Culture Is A ‘Five-To-Lifetime Commitment’

Tony Hsieh

[credit provider=”REUTERS/Danny Moloshok”]

When Rob LoCascio, CEO of online customer service company LivePerson, decided he wanted to fundamentally transform his company’s culture, he went out looking for guidance.And he went to the very best, talking to “companies that I think, are not great companies, they’re outstanding,” he tells us. “They’re a level above, and there aren’t many of them. Where it all starts is by having a set of core values and a very identifiable culture.” 

One of the companies on that short list is Zappos, which is regularly near the top of Fortune’s “Best Places To Work” list. LoCascio flew out to Las Vegas to meet with its CEO, Tony Hsieh, who gave him some essential advice on building a great culture:

“He said, ‘it’s a five-year commitment, if you’re going to do it. It’s a five-to-lifetime commitment; it’s not a two-year execution and you’re done. If you want to take it on, you’ve got to be willing to put that type of time into it.”

Many cultural initiatives are cosmetic, comprising of a few emails or a list of values produced with little input from employees with no follow-up and no effort. Not surprisingly, those efforts are quickly forgotten, and never survive the leader who put them into place.  

Truly creating a great culture, deciding on core values and sticking to them, takes constant effort. Hsieh famously asked all of his employees to weigh in on Zappos’ 10 core values. He also hires and fires based on the company’s values.

LoCascio also spoke with a Google employee who developed its innovation framework. The person told him that “we don’t empower ideas, we get a lot of innovation because we empower entrepreneurs.”

He took that and Hsieh’s advice to create LivePerson’s two core values: be an owner and help others. No one can ever be as passionate about an assignment as they are about their own idea. When they’re given the space and support to run with a powerful idea, the results can be amazing. 

“Our company is really about the people who work here really driving ideas,” says LoCascio. “You can’t have scale unless you’re Steve Jobs, and I’m not Steve Jobs. You can’t, at scale, build product from the top down. I have a vision for the company and you need everyone involved in the process.”