Getting the culture of a company right is tough, but is massively rewarding when done well. Most often it is done badly though, and back in my management consultant days I saw enough empty statements posted on lobby walls to fill a small book. It is maybe for this reason that I love to hear stories about when it works well, and has a real, tangible, impact.
I found the following in Tara Hunt’s The Whuffie Factor, and I hesitated before publishing it here as I don’t know for sure it is true. I pushed ahead because Tara, who heard it from the horses mouth, swears that it is, and because even if it isn’t true it is remarkable that Zappos employees and their families are talking in this way about their company. In Tara’s words:
Marela Coutierrez [a Zappos employee] was at a local restaurant with her family, when she observed a man with four children frantically searching through a garbage can. Immediately, she got up and went over to the man and asked him if he needed her help. The man explained to her that he thought he may have thrown his keys into the garbage can. Either way, they were missing. His kids seemed like they were tired and irritated and as they became more agitated, the man grew more frantic. so since they weren’t finding the keys, Marcela offered to drive the man home.
“That would be nice,” he said. “But nobody is there and my keys to my house are with my keys to my car”.”
Marcela asked if had a backup set anywhere and the man explained that he did at work, a ways away on the Las Vegas casino strip.
“Great!” Marcela said. “We’ll take you there to get them, then.”
The man was floored. Why would this total stranger offer to drive him all over town to help him? What did she have in it for herself? Marcela didn’t bat an eye, though, and helped the man get some child care while she took him to get his spare keys.
After the good deed was done and she, her husband, and her son were on the way home, her husband turned to her and said, “You’ve totally changed.”
“What do you mean?” she asked. “I would never leave someone like that hanging.”
“Well,” her husband told her, “you would have helped by taking him home. You may have even given him money for a cab. But you went above and beyond.”
Marcela thought about it. “I suppose you are right. I wonder what it is that’s changed.”
Her husband knew. “It’s Zappos. Zappos has made you a better person”.
Now this is a bit sugary sweet, but think about it for a second. Zappos’s culture is legendary, and widely cited as one of the reasons Amazon paid $925m for the company recently, but imagine what this woman would do for her customers, or co-workers, or how she feels towards her employer.