More on Transparency: Zappos Tells All

Today was my Zappos Tour.  The Zappos Family seems to be doing everything they can think of to share how they WOW! their customers and employees. They better share since we can’t all go work for them (tidbit from the tour: a lower percentage of applicants get jobs at Zappos than apply and get into Harvard). What’s the secret sauce?  The Zappos Family core values.

My translation: Transparency and the drive to do better. Their transparency takes a variety of forms. I’ve talked about how Zappos live streamed their last all hands' meeting to the world [9/26/2010 update: Streaming from 1-5pm pacific, click here to sign up for access]. They have an entire piece of the organization, Zappos Insights, focused on sharing via tours, answering questions on-line, and management education. The Delivering Happiness 20 city bus tour is about to begin... and they’re accepting applications for one more person! Why share your secret sauce?  From Zappos Insights:

It all started when Tony [Hsieh, the CEO] decided to be completely open and transparent about how the Zappos Family does business. So many businesses not only wanted to learn the “what,” they wanted to learn “how” we do what we do. Zappos Insights (ZI) was assembled as our crack commando force team to give you all the tools you need to develop the culture you desire.

Zappos has been being transparent since the beginning.  In Delivering Happiness (Tony Hsieh’s new book), Fred Mossler (part of the founding team) describes how they decided that they should let the vendors have the same information the Zappos buyers had:

I’ll never forget the afternoon I turned my chair around and asked Tony what he thought about giving vendors access to the same information as our buyers.  Traditionally in retail, information is hoarded, kept secret, and used as leverage against the vendors to get more out of them.... But if we created true transparency in our business, not only would they help us, they’d benefit as well. Not too long after I proposed the idea to Tony, he spun back around and said “Were you thinking about something like this?” He created the beginning of what we now refer to as “the extranet”.... vendors have complete visibility into the business (p. 187).

The reasoning in the book is that the average buyer at Zappos is working with 50 brands, but by being transparent to those brands' representatives, there are 50 other people helping to run the business. Ok, that makes business sense.  But what about the value of being transparent with the rest of their secret sauce?  My thinking:

  • It’s a good deed and completely in-line with their values.
  • It gives Zappos employees the opportunity to share their commitment to the core values with the world -- deepening their own commitment.
  • Sharing is more than a one-way street.  By sharing Zappos is opening up the possibility that their partners will also share back -- and they have extended the definition of partner to include us all.  Think of all the new ideas that can come their way.
  • The more we trust each other, the easier it is for all of us to work together.  Trust is a relationship built on being vulnerable. The more often you trust someone and they come through, the more trust you have in that relationship. Zappos is taking the first step in building trusting relationships with all of us.

What can we do in return? We can’t all go work for them (see note above, though I do hope one of my graduating students will get the chance).  We can do our best to deliver some of our own happiness and build transparency in a way that will make it better for our employees and business partners.  In November I said that transparency was the concept of the quarter.  I’ll go out on a limb and say that transparency is the concept of the decade. Have you provided transparency to your employees or business partners?  Care to be transparent with the results?  Click on the respond link below and let's start a conversation. Many thanks to all the Zappos Family members I met today and have had the chance to talk with over the last few months.  Jon & Robert, special thanks to you for the tour, and Marie for setting it up. Some of my prior Zappos posts:

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