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Posts Tagged ‘management

Zappos: Rewriting the Book on Corporate Transparency

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Does your company have an HR handbook? Chances are, you’re thinking yes, of course. What about a culture book for employees? Zappos does.

The company, which started by selling shoes a decade ago, is today an Amazon subsidiary and has expanded to a multitude of merchandising. It is also probably one of very few companies to grow its brand around an idea of transparency, ethics and collaborative culture. For Tony Hsieh, cofounder and current CEO of Zappos, this was intentional from Day 1. In his recently released book Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose—which I will be reviewing in the coming days on Vault’s CSR Blog: In Good Company—Hsieh devotes a whole chapter to the Zappos Culture Book.

In short, the book contains employee interpretations of what their company’s culture is all about and how it is different to other companies. And this is no mere PR exercise, designed to make the company look good: all of the entries received were inserted with minimal editing, even when they were anonymously submitted. Of course, Hsieh took a risk; no company is perfect and since culture is perceptional, the initiative could have resulted in a mudslinging session directed at Zappos management.

But it didn’t. While the majority of the entries were positive, not every employee was thrilled with the company’s culture—and that was reflected in the book. Hsieh, as promised, inserted both the criticism and the positive feedback when creating Zappos’ first Culture Book. His aim: To show existing and new employees what working there is all about, including the good, the bad and the ugly. In fact, much to his delight, the book has been downloaded by people who don’t even work at Zappos.

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh blogs regularly as well as staying engaged with customers and employees via Twitter

The company produces a new Culture Book every year. For Hsieh it epitomizes the evolution of the company’s brand over its short existence. “We wanted to be as transparent as possible, so we decided that none of the entries would be censored or edited, except for typos. Every edition of our culture book includes both the good and the bad so that people reading the book can get a real sense of what our culture is like. With each edition, it would also be a way of documenting how our culture was evolving over time.”

The idea of a culture book isn’t unique; it is Zappos’ treatment of transparency and accountability as a priority that makes this worth noting. Most companies conduct some form of employee survey to gauge problem points and get feedback on what’s working. However, publishing it without censorship in a publicly available document is what makes Hsieh’s approach sustainable. Even if it isn’t popular in every C-suite.

As a manager, how open are you to engaging your team in positive criticism? With new generations stepping into the workforce every year, ideas are bound to constantly evolve, but are management styles redefining and realigning accordingly? Whether you call it corporate responsibility, sustainability, or something else entirely, it doesn’t need highly designed websites and ad campaigns to work. It can start small: like spearheading a collaborative and transparent workplace culture. But it has to start from the top.

Hsieh puts it succinctly, “Even today, our belief is that our Brand, our Culture, and our Pipeline are the only competitive advantages that we will have in the long run. Everything else can and will eventually be copied.”

Join the discussion by leaving a comment, emailing Vault or connecting with us @VaultCSR.

Celebrity Apprentice – The Do’s and Don’ts of Management

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He had a successful stint in wrestling, but when it came to succeeding in business, Bill Goldberg’s survival streak has come to an end…losing out to Cyndi Lauper and the finger point of doom from Donald Trump, who proclaimed, “Bill Goldberg…you’re fired” to end another educational episode of Celebrity Apprentice.

In this week’s episode, the men of Rock Solid battled the women of Tenacity in a challenge to makeover and establish a breakout country music star.  The end result was an interesting case study for how to successfully manage a team.  Even in winning, Cyndi Lauper has a lot of learning to do.

1.  Delegating Authority vs. Abdicating the Throne:  Donald Trump announced this week’s music-based challenge and for some reason, Goldberg decided it was time for him to step up and take on the role of project manager, despite Bret Michaels, of Poison fame, being the obvious choice.  The former wrestler deferred to Michaels on every decision, believing he had no right to question the rock star.  Funny enough, while Michaels may have known all there is to know about promoting music, Goldberg actually understands how to make a star.  The former NFL star was a nobody wrestler until Ted Turner’s wrestling minds molded Goldberg as an unstoppable monster complete with smoke machines and piped in audience chants.  Goldberg’s success hinged on a makeover and yet the only order he barked was to tell his country star Luke Bryan to smile more when they took his photo for a media kit.

2.  Defer when Necessary:  Cyndi Lauper, who ironically enough has done more for the pro wrestling business than Goldberg, body slammed her competitor when it came to management skills.  A music icon in her own right, Lauper knew she had a marketing genius on her team when it came to Sharon Osbourne.  Sharon has guided her husband’s career to higher heights than should be possible.  When Lauper needed advice on how to market Emily West’s look, she wisely reached out to Ozzie’s wife.  When you have two musical masterminds who are able to work together, regardless of who is in charge, you create an unstoppable force, at least in this challenge.

3.  Live by the Sword; Die by the Sword:  It was no shock that Goldberg’s team loss, but had he won, Goldberg would have received $20,000 for his charity, despite Bret Michaels doing all of the work.  It only stands to reason that Goldberg also face the consequences for his team losing.  Yet, the men, including Bret Michaels, tried to convince Trump that the rock star should be fired.  Trump knows business.  He fired Goldberg for foolishly choosing an assignment he had no possibility of winning on his own.  The lesson here: If you take on the responsibility, you had better be prepared to face the music.  If you delegate authority, do not do so in a way that allows you to throw someone under the bus if they fail.  In the end, the buck stops with the project manager.

4.  Don’t Burn Bridges:  Despite winning, Cyndi Lauper is turning into a boss from hell, fast creating enemies on a show where you need allies in order to survive.  Whenever Holly Robinson Peete or Maria Kanellis tried to offer their opinions, Lauper went with the “Zip it” approach, quieting her teammates because she felt they knew nothing about how to create a star.  Whether she is right or wrong, a dictatorship will alienate members of your team.  There is a saying in public relations that is probably said in other circles as well: “Be nice to those who work for you, because chances are at some point, you might be working for them.”  Next week, someone else will be project manager and Cyndi Lauper’s iron fist rule may come back to haunt her.  Winning doesn’t always guarantee future success.

Conan O’Brien Made a Smart Career Decision and So Can You

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“In three months I’ve gone from network television to Twitter to performing live in theaters, and now I’m headed to basic cable. My plan is working perfectly.”—Conan O’Brien

This is not a joke. Despite looking a bit…well unshaven…over the past few months, Conan O’Brien did not oversleep and play the world’s greatest April Fool’s Day prank 12 days too late when he announced he was going to host a late night talk show on basic cable.  It is indeed all true.  Come November, Coco, as he is affectionately called, will become latest addition to TBS, the station whose biggest claim to fame are marathons of Friends, Seinfeld, Family Guy and Office repeats, Tyler Perry shows and a George Lopez late night gab fest.  And while it doesn’t sound it, as Alan Sepinwall said in the Star-Ledger, the decision may have been the smartest career choice O’Brien has ever made.

Many expected Conan O’Brien to jump ship to Fox, the only major network without a late night talk show.  But Fox has never succeeded with previous late night entries (Joan Rivers, Chevy Chase, Magic Johnson) and affiliates were not supportive of the move, believing repeats of Simpsons and Seinfeld were a safer ratings bet.  Like NBC, these affiliates wanted to stick with the familiar, rather than the unsure.  If Fox could get Conan, the affiliates would have probably let up, only to immediately complain if Coco didn’t promptly deliver.  There would be so much pressure for Conan to beat Jay Leno that anything less than immediate success would be viewed as utter failure. A reputation was on the line.

Conan weighed his options.  He looked at his choices and thought about the company culture, the company’s history and the company’s commitment and felt that Fox would be as big a headache as NBC. He looked at TBS and saw a company looking to grow, looking to take risks and already demonstrating a commitment by sticking with George Lopez in his late night talk show.  He looked around and saw college kids watching Adult Swim on the Cartoon Network while cheering Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central and realized that’s where his audience was.  He saw no affiliates calling for his head. He saw a subscription based cable system that allowed him to earn more money than Fox could offer.  As one of only a few sources of original material, he saw a network devoted to making him happy.  And because cable ratings are viewed differently from broadcast television ratings, he also saw an opportunity to succeed without having to beat Leno.  In short, Conan did his homework before rushing into making a hasty decision and made the right choice.

These lessons apply to the job search.  Just because you work for the #1 ranked consulting firm doesn’t mean that when you are fired, you have to work for the #2 consulting firm.  There are options.  Pay attention to your choices.  Research companies, create a list of pros and cons and then make an informed decision.  In the end, it’s YOU that needs to be happy with your decision.

Goldman Glows, Citi Sleeps: Fortune Ranks Most Admired Companies

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Seems like Citigroup has its work cut out for itself. Whether it be reputation, innovation (No. 5), people management (No. 6), management quality (No. 1), financial soundness (No. 7), or long-term investment (No. 5), the Citi that never sleeps managed to be in the Top 10 “least admired” in six of the nine sub-categories of Fortune’s latest ranking: World’s Most Admired Companies.

But let’s not make this about Citi–although I couldn’t resist sharing the video below about their famous mantra!

Moving on, there are many companies on the ranking that have done well and because this ranking is based mostly on the perception of the brand, the list is telling of how much good really translates into the perceived notion of doing good. For example, take a look at the companies that comprise the Top 5: Apple, Google, Berkshire Hathaway, Johnson & Johnson, and Amazon–all with positive reputations, strong market shares and relative lack of controversy in the media. They all have also almost always emphasized publicly on rewarding innovation and their brands have garnered trust from consumers like few others have.

Besides the overall ranking, it is the sub-categories that make it interesting. In the “social responsibility” category, UPS takes the winning spot, followed by Starbucks, Marriott, Walt Disney (Read what CEO Robert Iger had to say on Disney’s sustainable initiatives at the ECO:nomics Conference last week, where he said employees as well as potential employees are demanding responsible companies like never before) and Statoil in the Top 5. No shockers there but telling that companies which are more well-regarded for their SR component are missing: Seventh Generation, PepsiCo, etc. And there is a simple explanation for this: The ranking is based on the perception of SR by business executives, and could (is?) be way off from their actual responsibility quotient. Compare these names to last year’s winners and my argument becomes obvious: Anheuser-Busch was No. 1, followed by Marriott, Integrys, Walt Disney and Herman Miller.

Wall Street BonusesAnother interesting category is “people management.” Goldman Sachs, that has been the subject of much abuse from the media and consumers for its bonuses and risky investments, surprisingly, took the top spot here. Take a look at this excerpt from our 2009 Banking survey: “Teamwork, consensus building, corporate citizenship and meritocracy” are Goldman’s buzzwords, and insiders boast that “it’s a culture of integrity and character, where people genuinely value the perception of the firm.” With employees so enamored with the bank’s people management, maybe it shouldn’t be such a surprise that outsiders feel the same golden glow from the mega bank as well? The list’s Top 5 get rounded off by Apple, Nike, UPS and Polo Ralph Lauren. And ironically, the worst possible year for investment banks saw Goldman retain its No. 1 spot in this category from 2009, while the other top four all changed hands. Perception problems or genuine regard?

Did your company make this reputational ranking? Do you agree with the ranking? Who would you have preferred to see as No. 1 for some of the categories? Leave a comment here, write to In Good Company or follow us on Twitter @VaultCSR! Also, visit In Good Company for more coverage on sustainability, diversity and CSR and how they relate to your career and workplace.

For the complete ranking, visit Fortune. Compare these with Vault’s Annual Rankings of the Top Banking and Accounting Employers, which provide in-depth reviews, buzz and insights into work culture, business outlook and diversity initiatives.

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