Make Company Culture Your Competitive Advantage In Hospitality (Or Any Industry)

I have recently been reading a fascinating book on the topic of delivering happiness to customers through building an amazing culture in your company, that book is Delivering Happiness by the late Tony Hsieh. Here’s how to make Company Culture Your Competitive Advantage In Hospitality

In 1998 Tony Hsieh dreaded going to work at a company he’d built. His internet company was expanding rapidly. So he recruited people as fast as he could to help it grow. The new recruits were smart and driven to make money, but didn’t seem to care so much about the organisation. Over time Hsieh’s business went from having an all for one, one for all team sentiment to a company absorbed in political jockeying and rumour.

Hsieh increasingly wanted to leave the company he had built. Towards the end of 1998, his wish came true when Microsoft offered to buy out the company for 265 million dollars. Hsieh took the money and walked away from his first startup, promising himself to make culture the highest priority at his next company.

10 years on and Hsieh Is heading an internet shoe company named Zappos. Hsieh invested a considerable amount of money and energy to make the Zappos culture as awesome as possible and it started paying off in surprising ways. Zappos is not just one of the top places in the world to be employed, it also generates billions of dollars a year, mostly because Hsieh discovered that when you create a great culture your employees also enjoy being at work. Then those employees go above and beyond for the customer, creating highly satisfied customers.

Make Company Culture Your Competitive Advantage In Hospitality

Great Company Culture

Zappos has an amazing company culture, which results in incredible customer service, which is Zappos competitive advantage. Zappos doesn’t have the cheapest or the most innovative product, but customers don’t care because they know that Zappos employees will look after them if something goes wrong with an order.

Want to turn your culture your competitive advantage? Below I will describe three pivotal decisions that Tony Hsieh made at Zappos to ensure Zappos culture became great.

Firstly, hire and fire according to values. The majority of companies have a mission statement that outlines their list of values but they’re usually next to meaningless. Say you’re employed in an organisation that has to create a positive team and family spirit as one of the core values, however, you have a colleague who talks down to and demeans other co-workers however is also is a stellar performer, making the company lots of profit, what does the management do?

Chances are that the managers glance the other way, as the only value they truly have is generating a profit. At Zappos, if you break any of the core values, you’re going to be fired no matter how good you are in your role. Furthermore, if you aren’t someone who exemplifies Zappo’s core values, you won’t be offered the role to start out with.


Make Company Culture A Competitive Advantage


Two Types Of Interview

Zappos has two types of interviews. First to see if you’re qualified for the role and also one to ascertain if you align with company values. The people overseeing the values interviews have the power of veto and will block any candidate who doesn’t align. Zappos has 10 core values with the 10th core value being be humble.

So if you start bragging about your achievements and come across as arrogant in your interview it won’t matter how intelligent you are or how many relevant skills you have or how awesome you’ll be in the role, you’re not going to get the job. However, If you do fit with their values and are employed you’ll be praised and promoted for doing acts that would get you fired with other employers.

For example, there was a time when an employee spent half an hour helping a shopper search for shoes on a competitor’s site because Zappos didn’t have the style in stock. Management still shares this story at Zappos because it demonstrates the companies top core value – deliver WOW through service. Another example was when a co-worker stayed on the line with the customer for 10 straight hours helping them answer questions about living in Las Vegas, or assisting a customer in ordering pizza when their hotel stopped offering room service for the evening.

Core Values Are Key To Making Company Culture Your Competitive Advantage

When you outline and uphold your company’s core values so that everyone in your organisation is fully aware of them and then take decisions based upon them the team acts in unison, and feels more like family. Start defining your organisation’s core values by outlining the character traits of three types of potential recruits.

  1. Those you’d enjoy to go out for drinks or a meal with after work.

  2. Colleagues you’d enjoy working evenings or weekends with when you’re trying to meet an important deadline.

  3. The type you don’t enjoy work with, outline their character traits and then invert them. So for example, if you don’t like greedy or arrogant co-workers then you’d probably appreciate generosity and humility.

The goal here is to outline values that ensure your culture is distinct. Such as being fun and a little bit weird, which happens to be Zappos third core value. You need a list of values that you are prepared to hire, promote, and fire based on. When you have your list of potential core values consolidate that list by combining similar values and leaving the core values that are the most meaningful.

You need everyone at your organisation to be able to easily recite them. Then put together interview questions based around these core values. Create KPIs to gauge if your employees’ actions are in line with your company values and then filter all major decisions through the lens of your new core values, including what you invest in and who you let go of if you suffer a downturn.

Culture Book

The next key decision that Tony Hsieh took to create an incredible culture at Zappos was to create a culture book. Many leaders express that they want to create an amazing culture but in truth aren’t willing to hold themselves accountable if their culture breaks down. Tony Hsieh ensured that he and his top team were held accountable for the culture they developed by creating a culture book every year. Each year the leadership team asks co-workers to anonymously submit answers to the question, What is the Zappos culture to you? Then the team brought together all the answers and published them in an uncensored and unedited form (except for any typos) on the Zapppos website and also in a physical copy of the book.

If an answer was negative, like for example a post from an employee stating how the company was not providing him opportunities to study and develop (violating Zappos core value number 5), that negative answer was published for anyone to view. The leaders at Zappos are then extremely motivated to take action and to invest more in ensuring their culture lined up with core values in order that they are able to improve in the following year’s culture book.

Celebrate Experiences

It’s also a way for the team to recollect all the awesome things they did together over the last year. The culture book at Zappos brings together photos from past events over the year and makes up a colorful book of memories. When co-workers go through the book, they’re able to relive the times they had together and are incentivised to plan better and bigger team gatherings and make sure next year’s culture book is even more impressive.

Why not make company culture your competitive advantage in hospitality and reboot your company’s culture by bringing together photos of company experiences over the year and then posing two questions to your co-workers.. How do you define the company culture? And secondly, what’s different about it compared to other company cultures?

Bring together the answers and publish them ensuring they aren’t censored or edited except for any typos. When you go through all the submissions ask yourself if they reflect your organisation’s core values and is there uniformity amongst the feedback? If not, there will be some work to do prior to compiling next year’s culture book.

Onboard With Customer Service In Mind

The third key decision that ensured Zappos culture was great was to onboard new recruits with customer service in mind. In his book, Hsieh states “Everyone that is hired into our HQ goes through the same training that our customer service and call center staff go through, no matter their department or title. Accountant, lawyer, or software developer, doesn’t matter you’re on the phone for two weeks taking calls from customers”.

When your first experience at an organisation is in customer service, you go back to the job you were hired for with a feeling of purpose. If you’re a software designer and in the first several weeks in the role, you helped Tina from Chicago find exactly what she wanted on the site, you’ll return to your job that you were brought in to do understanding how your work will assist customers like Tina and are going to end up writing better code to make Tina’s experience just that little bit better.

As the success of every company rests on creating happy and satisfied customers it makes sense that every person that works at your organisation has a direct experience with the customer that they’re ultimately assisting and therefore the entire team gets unified around a common purpose of assisting the customer in having the best experience possible.

Happy Staff Equals Happy Customers

If you are aiming for an awesome culture, outline your core values. Then hire and fire upon those values. Next, create a culture book that keeps track of the pulse of your culture and record memories that reinforce the bonds between coworkers. Lastly onboard new hires into a customer service position in order that they comprehend who they are assisting when they begin the role they were brought on board to do.

When you invest in your culture, you get satisfied employees. Satisfied employees deliver happiness to customers, which translates to more sales and increased growth.

This was the main understanding that I got from Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh. I feel it is possibly the best book out there on building an awesome company culture, strongly recommended!

If you like this post, let me know in the comments, and please do share. Thanks for reading and have yourself a great week!