My new favorite brand is Zappos. Not only because they’re a client of SMG (which I’m very proud of), but because their culture is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The company not only builds connections and camaraderie among employees, but they are very intentional about connecting and providing an over-the-top experience for customers.
Prior to my first visit, I read Delivering Happiness, by CEO Tony Hseih (pronounced “shay”). This isn’t a typical corporate handbook, laden with business jargon, but Tony’s life story tracking his journey from Northern California, to Harvard, to starting/selling a company to Microsoft, to investing in and leading Zappos. He wanted to create a culture where people actually enjoyed coming to work, and customers were WOWed by their experience. In fact, in the lobby you’ll see these words mounted to the wall: “Zappos is a service company that just happens to sell _____________.” Since they’re constantly evolving and expanding product categories, they don’t just sell shoes.
As the daughter of a former IBMer, hired in the 60s through the early 90s, I saw my Dad wear the uniform – blue suits and white shirts. At Zappos, you won’t see the formality of a cookie-cutter corporate environment. In fact, at the recent all-hands meeting I attended, Tony rocked jeans, a hoodie, and a Mohawk. We swayed and sang as a few employees kicked off the meeting with hip hop dance and Bruno Mars. Yes, this is the norm for a Zappos meeting.
During the all-hands an update was given on Zappos Adaptive, the new category of products that provides independence and function, without compromising style for people with disabilities. This project is amazing for a number of reasons, and at its essence Zappos saw a need and created a solution. Compliance wasn’t the driver and they didn’t merely create a campaign around the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act or National Disability Employment Awareness Month. They genuinely and authentically have provided a platform of disability inclusion throughout the company. This creates a win-win for customers, vendors and Zappos.
I’ve observed a few things about Zappos approach to disability inclusion which can be replicated within your organization.
- Sell the Problem Your Brand Solves, Not the Product
Zappos Adaptive was hatched after a grandmother with an autistic grandson called the customer service center looking for shoes that would provide him with ease and independence when dressing. By focusing on the solution, assessing existing vendors, and developing vendor engagements with new ones, like Billy Footwear, Zappos is positioned to make a real impact in the lives of customers with disabilities, and that make products for them.
- Customer Service is the Difference
Zappos is a customer service company that happens to sell apparel. They’ve integrated disability inclusion within customer service, which is important because the company has built its brand on service and the customer experience. I’ve long said that the business will take care of itself if the people with disabilities interact with staff that understand their needs.
- Yes, And…
The culture within Zappos is one of ‘yes, and…’ instead of a ‘yes, but…’. When internal barriers surface, the team determines how to overcome them, rather than let them impede progress. What I’ve observed is that the team determines how it can advance a market growth opportunity, rather than become entangled by a litany of reasons why they can’t move forward. Not only does Zappos Adaptive have executive support, but it also has a dedicated team to ensure business goals are met.
- Enlist Support
I’ve participated in meetings with team leads from various functions to address how their department can be engaged with the Zappos Adaptive team. Without the support and engagement of leaders throughout the enterprise, it would be impossible for Zappos Adaptive to have a chance within the company
Your organization can implement any of these observations by adopting a ‘yes, and’ mindset. If you’d like to learn how to move your organization from knowing they should target, serve and employ people with disabilities, to actually doing it, contact us to schedule a discovery call.
Here’s to your success!
Carmen Daniels Jones
President and CEO of Solutions Marketing Group