The Ripple Effect of Zappos’ Self-Management System

In the Japanese island of Okinawa, people live by a value called ikigai. Pronounced “ick-ee-guy,” the word is said to have no direct translation in English, though “a reason for which you wake up in the morning” comes close. According to psychiatrist Meiko Kamiya, author of Ikigai-ni-tsuite (About Ikigai), the word is similar to “happiness.” Ikigai is what cultivates a sense of purpose.

People who have a sense of purpose in life are more motivated and resilient. When you think of someone who is engaged with their work, who has a clear sense of purpose and know their contribution makes a difference – who do you picture? For us, it’s Zappos.

In the past years, Ikigai has made inroads with the internal culture at Zappos. Their employees understand what they are working towards and how they make a difference in people’s lives, which gives them a greater sense of purpose. Zappos’ 10 Core Values has a big part to play, as tying the culture to the goals of the company gives employees a common goal to work toward.

Employees at Zappos support the retailer’s 10 Core Values because they understand them. Under the company’s self-managed environment Zapponians know what is expected of them and continue to evolve and innovate in order to achieve the desired outcome.

In this interview with The HR Digest, Christa Foley, Senior Director of Brand Vision and Culture and Head of Talent Acquisitions at Zappos, talks about the online retailer’s self-managing, self-organizing culture which has become a landmark study for companies aspiring to create a distinct workplace culture.

Zappos Core Values Internal Culture

The HR Digest: Zappos’ internal culture is heavily instilled with the Okinawan concept of ikigai (a Japanese word loosely translated to mean ‘a reason for being’). What have been the key drivers propelling ikigai, detail on some of them?

Christa Foley: The thing that really drives both our business and our people forward is our culture. That’s why it was so important to infuse our Core Values, which were created by employees themselves, into our hiring process. We try not to focus on how fast we can fill positions, it just matters that we have the right people.

Zappos 10 Core Values

The HR Digest: What are the people management and workforce empowerment practices at Zappos to ensure employee happiness, engagement, and productivity?

Christa Foley: Because we try to operate in a self-managed environment, we try to give as many tools and resources to our employees as possible. Sometimes that means cutting down barriers and roadblocks so they can solve problems themselves and sometimes that means connecting employees to others who have the skills and know-how that they’re looking for.

The HR Digest: With Zappos having an enviable employer brand, a key factor to attract and retain top talent, is there an added pressure on culture leaders to work on employee job satisfaction and engagement strategies?

Christa Foley: I wouldn’t say there are any designated “culture leaders” at Zappos. Our philosophy is that if you hire for culture, then everyone should be able to identify with and embody our Core Values in some way. We have 10 Core Values and some people will empower different ones at different times and that’s ok!

Christa Foley | Senior Director of Brand Vision and Culture and Head of Talent Acquisitions, Zappos

Christa Foley Headshot

Thirteen years ago, Christa joined Zappos as a human resources generalist and soon became the recruiting manager. One of her first tasks was to create the Culture Interview Assessment, which, to this day, helps recruiters determine whether a prospective employee embodies Zappos’ 10 core values. In 2012, Christa became the director of Zappos Insights (a department that shares Zappos’ philosophies and approach to customer service, people and culture) and revamped the Culture Camp and created the School of WOW programs.


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Priyansha Mistry
Currently editor at The HR Digest Magazine. She helps HR professionals identify issues with their talent management and employment law. | Priyansha tweets at @PriyanshaMistry

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