Erica Pinsky



Demonstrating Respect the Zappos Way

n the opening chapter of my book Road to Respect: Path to Profit I share the story of Four Seasons Hotels founder Issy Sharp, who based his corporate culture on the Golden Rule - treat others as you would like to be treated. Sharp embraced respect to create a culture where employees would feel as valued as the guests they served.


Like the other "Employers of Choice" featured in my book, Four Seasons is a values based company where respect is a core value. Creating a respectful workplace is not about having nice slogans or values statements about respect posted up on the wall. As Sharp and the other successful leaders understand, it is about creating a culture where business practices are fundamentally respectful.


Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos is that kind of leader. Zappos  is an electronic commerce company and online retailer specializing in footwear. Since its founding in 1999, Zappos has grown to be the biggest online shoe store. In addition to shoes they now sell handbags, clothing, eyewear, watches and accessories.


Zappos mission is to offer the best customer service in the industry. Hsieh knows that the way to achieve that objective is to focus on core values and company culture. Clearly he is on to something. Zappos grossed $1 billion in 2008, up from $1.6 million in 2000, the year Hsieh became CEO.


Like the "Employers of Choice" in my book, Zappos is a values based company. However, unlike the companies I feature, the word respect is absent from Zappos 10 stated core values. From my perspective that is not what is important. In assessing whether or not Zappos has a respectful culture, what matters is whether or not their business practices demonstrate respect. There is no doubt in my mind that they do.


Tony Hsieh describes Zappos as a culture that is "driven by the employees, not by me." Their core philosophy is summed up by a simple phrase that flows from a respectful perspective.


"People may not remember exactly what you did or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel."


The desired outcome is happy employees and happy customers, and there is no doubt that disrespectful behaviour will not produce that outcome.


The culture at Zappos is designed to build empowerment and trust. Employees decide what will make themselves and their customers happy at work. They are trained to show customers that they genuinely care about them and are empowered to do whatever it takes to ensure that happens. If an employee decides that to make a customer happy, he or she should send them flowers, they can go ahead and do that.


Trust develops through business practices that model transparency and openness. Zappos phone number is listed at the top of every page in their web site. Hsieh works in a cubicle. His thinking was that if he truly wanted employees to know that he embraced the idea of an open door policy, it would be simpler to just get rid of the doors, work among the employees and be part of the conversations on a daily basis. His yearly salary is $36,000.


Each year the company puts out a culture book to give employees the opportunity to express what the corporate culture means to them. Other than spelling mistakes, the book is completely unedited. It is intended to be a public document. Anyone that wants a copy of the book can simply ask for one. Prospective employees receive a copy so that they can decide if the culture will be a good fit for them.


While Zappos has a very distinct corporate culture, the philosophy and business practices are consistent with those embraced by the companies featured in my book. They are designed to make employees feel good about who they are and what they are doing at work. They create a cohesive community where employees are engaged in their jobs and having fun as they achieve success.


At Zappos they don't talk about respect but they sure act respectfully.


And that is all that matters in my book !



"Erica Pinsky’s book, Road to Respect: Path to Profit approaches a range of difficult topics in an honest, direct and non-threatening manner. This book will stimulate readers to think about their own values and behaviours and to question those that are operating in their workplaces. Erica shares personal stories and best practices to clearly show why adopting respect as a core value is a requirement for any business interested in being designated as an Employer of Choice in our multi-cultural workplaces.  I highly recommend this book!"

Susan Rubin Mulder,

Principal - McKinsey & Company