Sunday, June 6, 2010

Zappos: Can a Company Create Social Impact With a Shoebox?

While the purpose of this blog is to explore different ways small and large businesses can create positive social impact, I took up the challenge of reviewing the book, "Delivering Happiness, A Path To Profits, Passion and Purpose" by Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos. A challenge - because-how do I make a case that a very successful online shoe company with some moderate philanthropy and community involvement, by the nature of their unique corporate culture is really a great force for social good? 
 Conventionally speaking, double bottom line refers to businesses, mostly those considered as social enterprises, that measure their success both by their financial performance and their performance in terms of positive social impact. Zappos is not a conventional business and certainly would not be considered a conventional double bottom line one.  I am convinced that a company whose culture and entire business operations are primarily about the well-being of their employees and customers, can create enormous positive social impact, the kind that can become viral, contagious and can create a culture of caring about the world in general.      

It is important to place this book and its' message within the context of the burgeoning happiness movement. While there is certainly a lot going on in this area, with new books coming out every day studying or proposing methods of achieving  personal happiness, the world of business is not yet on board with this idea. Perhaps, happiness is too Pollyanish for the hard core business analysts to get behind. Only fairly recently have  several notable business and graduate schools created programs in positive organizational psychology and positive organizational scholarship that study the many aspects of corporate culture and leadership that contribute to work satisfaction and wellbeing,  language that corporate thinking may be able to relate to more easily. Even so, no matter what one calls it, happiness or wellbeing, businesses often have difficulty seeing the ROI on spending the time and money creating a culture and environment that promotes great customer service, satisfaction, and happiness in the workplace environment. This book should hopefully change that notion.  

Small and large businesses can use this book as inspiration and as a how-to for building positive teams, developing company mission and value statements, increasing employee engagement and morale, developing  a customer service training program, and so much more- even how to  have fun at work!  And as a guide for leaders -from executive washrooms to boardrooms, to the back rooms of small business, to the garages of startups-business owners and leaders can look to Tony’s leadership ideals and principles to model their own leadership styles by and to embed these principles in their companies from the beginning.  

Tony, and I believe he speaks as a collective voice of the company, has a personal mission to make the world a better place. If other companies choose to follow their example,  they will indeed create a corporate culture that cares about the employees and customers, and that will extend to caring about their local communities and about the many problems in the world that sorely need to be addressed.

1 comment:

Olivia Khalili said...

Lalia, can't wait to read this--thanks for your thoughts on it! Have you seen the Zappos Culture Handbook? Zappos is so fun and spirited. Even reading about them (let alone ordering shoes) gives me a lift.