Vault's Careers Blog

Career advice and job search strategies for the modern careerist

Posts Tagged ‘quality of life

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.

Event Alert: Accredited Sustainability (CSR) Practitioner Workshop

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Next month, the Center for Sustainability and Excellence (CSE) will complete five years of conducting sustainability seminars and certifying CSR practitioners. The two-day seminar historically have always been filled with useful workshops, individual presentations from practitioners, many debates and rich discussions surrounding the aspects of corporate responsibility and sustainability.

Last year, I attended one of CSE’s workshops and came back certified as a CSR practitioner as well as armed with much-needed clarified information on the issue. This workshop, which is conducted by CSE and approved by international think tank, Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA), attracts executives every year from a range of industries. For example, my session last year had a diverse group including representatives from consulting firms, consumer products manufacturers, lawyers, policy regulators, professors, scientists as well as HR specialists and a pilot from an international airline.

If you are seeking a broad overview of CSR this workshop is highly recommended. Besides theoretical concepts and key guidelines, the forum gives you an opportunity to network with other CSR-minded professionals across industries. This networking and sharing of ideas and more so, learning from what they are doing in this growing field, can prove immensely helpful in carving your career in CSR and green issues.

What is even better is that this year for the first time, in collaboration with Vault and In Good Company, CSE is offering an exclusive discount to our readers. Just make sure to mention “VAULT” during the registration process and you will be able to shave 25% off the fee!

For complete details, including registration process as well as first-person perspectives from last year’s workshop, visit Vault’s CSR Blog: In Good Company.

Tweeting Your Job Out the Window

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Remember the sheaf of papers you signed off on when you started work? Somewhere in there was your company’s official Ethics Policy. Yeah, feel the yawn coming? And that’s why nine out of 10 new hires simply sign off on that paper without given it more than a cursory glance. But today this policy may be under attack.

At an event hosted by The Conference Board last week on Business Ethics & Compliance, I heard ethics and compliance officers from different industries discuss their industry-respective takes on regulatory reform and challenges of instilling ethical behavior in the workplace. And somewhere in the middle there was suddenly a confession from one of the panelists. One that surprised me not only because of their acknowledged bafflement with it but also what followed as an honest confession of not knowing how to deal with it. They were referring to the new phenomenon called social media.

With Facebook and Twitter blurring the line between personal and private, companies have to deal with a new challenge for their ethics policies, including confidentiality, privacy policies, and reduced productivity. How much company information is it okay for someone to post on their Facebook status, if at all? Is discussing their daily work on a public forum considered a breach of confidentiality? And what if this includes a client name or a product in the making? Lawsuit written all over it?

But the No. 1 concern, according to the panel—which comprised of ethics officers from PricewaterhouseCoopers, Lincoln Financial and PepsiCo—was where to draw the line between personal and professional. One of the key speakers was Jude Curtis, the chief ethics and compliance officer at PricewaterhouseCoopers, who discussed his team’s efforts in putting together an official “Social Media Policy.”  Curtis also added that PwC considered their employees’ presence on social networking sites serious enough to set up a Social Media Steering Group, which is tasked with continually reviewing their policy as the field evolves.

Pepsi’s VP of Compliance, Stephen Noughton added yet another dimension to the discussion by expressing his concern: Does a potential candidate’s presence on social media deserve a place in the traditional background check? While the jury is out on this one, as a jobseeker, does that worry us? With industry experts citing social media key for your career success, I’m willing to bet yes on that one.

Finally, the last segment to this conversation:  We are all asked to sign a “Code of Conduct” at work, however, what happens when we flip this? What about the board signing an ethics policy that asks them to adhere to the triple bottom line principal when making any strategic decisions? Sound untraditional? Well, it is, but it might not be for too long as corporate social responsibility gets concretely defined across board rooms and shifts from pure advocacy quests to instrumentally changing strategic direction at corporations.

Ethics will soon have to bridge the gap from being solely an individual responsibility to a conscious common denominator in our business decisions as well. If you understand business terminology better, it’s also called sustainable capitalism.

Posted by Aman Singh Das, In Good Company

Millennials: Lazy Workers or Champions of Work/Life Balance?

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Millennials. The very word sparks debates galore. And depending on who is speaking, these discussions can be depressing, full of expletives, ambiguous or downright dismissive. A recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, found out that the “new” No. 1 quality that millennials believe makes us unique is technology. It displaces the spot taken by work ethics for decades, and herein is the debate.

For a lot of us who work with millennials, however, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Technology has invaded our professional and personal lives, especially for millennials, who have grown up expecting the ease and immediacy that technology affords us.  But that it would replace “work ethics” in what makes them unique has people in a tizzy. The Washington Post tackled the question in its blog Story Lab asking, “Are Millennials Lazy?” It stated that this survey would make millennials the first generation to not cite work ethics as their No. 1 unique distinguisher.

The Post also compared the top 5 spots picked by millennials and Generation X workers. For millennials, technology was followed by music and pop culture they grew up on, their liberal politics and “tolerance” of others, their generation being smarter, with fashion rounding out the top 5. For Generation X-ers, the list was a tad different. While no. 1 remained technology, close on its heels was “work ethic” followed by conservative or traditional values, their superior intellect, and finally being respectful.

How much should this worry us as employers, mentors and executives building motivated and loyal teams? Clearly, there is a distinct difference in the way the different generations work. Thousands of books have been written on the subject, seminars are regularly hosted for HR executives, and it is always a testy discussion for numerous exec meetings. Some younger companies might have mastered this balance but for most firms, this disconnect remains an unsolved dilemma.’s Phil Stott took up the debate earlier this month, wondering whether millennials were plain deluded, betrayed by society or just too young to know better! Citing a poll that surveyed high school seniors since the recession continue to want more vacation and time for themselves away from the job, he said, “Despite the economic meltdown then in full flow—events that were reshaping their likely career paths before their eyes—that group of students still expected to graduate into a world where they’d be able to dictate terms to an employer based on how much they’d like to work.”

Realistically, besides the emphasis on technology, can millennials genuinely be blamed for devoting less effort and energy to their work in an economy where it’s been made clear that no one is indispensable? And if they are, are we reciprocating by providing them with training, encouraging new thought, changing our internal work policies to accommodate them, or showing them the door? Post a recession that left everyone scrambling to hold on to their jobs, will we be better served to cater to their prioritizations and figure out a formula that allows a juggle of old and new?

As managers, directors and recruiters, you make these choices every day. Do you continue to give demonstration of strong work ethics precedence in the job interview or have yesteryear taboos like asking whether work/life balance would be a problem or whether Facebook and Twitter were restricted at work, replaced top priorities? Leave us a comment here or follow us on Twitter @VaultCSR and add your view to the debate.

Washington Post Takes on (Lack of) Newsroom Diversity: Falling Short Could be Fatal

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Will diversity ever go out of fashion? I ask this because last week was full of surveys and reports on minority counts and how we’re continuously failing to diversify. I’d like to highlight a couple of them that not only deserve some analysis, but matter to our careers and everyday professional existence.

A new survey by executive search firm Wesley, Brown & Bartle (WB&B) paints a bleak picture for minorities in senior management ranks. According to their survey, if “an equally credentialed Black or Latino executive is one of three finalists for an open position, their respective chance of getting the job offer is not one in three but one in 33.” The survey, rightly, also points out that for executive hiring at least, the ultimate decision lies not only with the hiring manager but also the CEO’s “personal commitment to diversity.” And this recession has diminished the progress made in recent decades in ensuring diversity among the top ranks, with numerous reports suggesting minorities and women have suffered the most by layoffs and cost cutting.

Washington Post Managing Editor Marcus Brauchli

The second report was by The Washington Post‘s Ombudsman Andrew Alexander this weekend discussing the Post’s internal diversity. Considering that news organizations have made giant leaps in addressing diversity, it is sobering to see that it remains far from enough. While 43% of the Post’s readership comes from minorities, its newsroom’s tally comes at 24%. Notably, Alexander does address the dominant place diversity has taken in our workplace culture. It used to be about altruism but today it is about the bottom line and remaining relevant in the business. Lack of diverse thought and perspective is pushing consumers away and without demand, there is no business model. As he puts it, “Back when newspapers generated huge profits, altruism often drove diversity efforts. Today, there’s an urgent business imperative. For the Post, struggling to regain profitability and retain subscribers, reaching expanding minority audiences represents opportunity–and perhaps survival.”

He also notes another important factor that seems to be on the rise at companies in recent years: Retaining and promoting minorities remains harder than the hiring. Alexander alludes to it, saying that including minority candidates in the pool is a mandate that all hiring managers know, but who eventually gets the job is a much grayer area. And because personnel development and leadership initiatives require budgetary considerations, diligent enforcement and repeated emphasis to diversity of thought in the work culture, they get easily forgotten.

For sure, this isn’t strictly a Post issue. Especially post-recession, increasing minority ranks in one’s company couldn’t be further down on the priority list. And when there is an easy excuse at hand (Haven’t you heard, we’re in the middle of a recession!) relegating diversity initiatives to the last page becomes a trend. Not addressing this, however, might become the deal breaker for your company’s sustainability in a time when “Corporate Sustainability” and “CSR” are making the rounds of boardrooms and the corner office, not only by concerned employees and consumers, but for some, shareholders as well.

What do you think? Has your employer scaled back its leadership initiatives? Your feedback and comments make this an engaged discussion, so keep writing in by leaving a comment, emailing In Good Company or following us on Twitter @VaultCSR!

Company “Fit” — A Key to a Happy, Successful Career

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When it comes down to having happy employees, it turns out that there’s a side to the equation that doesn’t show up in the literature very often: getting rid of unhappy employees. A recent article by a Chicago-area businessman on the New York Times’ You’re the Boss Blog underscored that point:

“I have learned the long, hard and frustrating way that as a manager you cannot make everyone happy. You can try, you can listen, you can solve some problems, you can try some more. Good management requires training, counseling and patience, but there comes a point when you are robbing the business of precious time and energy.”

Most people can look around their companies and find examples of the people the author of the above quote describes: people who don’t fit with what the company is trying to do, no matter how well they’re managed, or how much support or help they’re given.

So much of the literature and thinking on management stresses looking after employees as an active part of a manager’s job.  Thus, if a manager wants an open, creative, collaborative workforce, they have to create the conditions for it, train people to act in a certain way, and foster the environment until it produces what they’re looking for. Achieving success in that is one definition of what we’ve come to call good leadership.

What tends to be absent from the leadership canon, however, is the acknowledgement that some people just don’t want to be led, or are determined to resist any change that they don’t agree with. Even highly skilled, experienced workers can fall into that category, and end up not only not doing their own job, but holding back their department or the company as a whole.

When presented as a theoretical problem, the answer to many business issues can seem easy. For example: revenue has dropped 25 percent, and you need to cut costs to deal with it. Where do you begin? It’s similarly easy to recommend firing someone who isn’t performing well in their job. But getting rid of employees simply because they don’t seem to fit with the company culture is a lot harder to do—in large part because there are no hard and fast metrics for assessing “fit”. Nor can there be: it’s a subjective measure.

Ultimately, the issue comes down to a very simple idea, also contained within the Times article: “It’s hard to build a great company with the wrong people.” What’s easy for most of us to do is look around our companies and find people that just aren’t on board with the direction the organization is seeking to go. And even if you don’t know who they are, someone else will: whether it’s the head of one department who can’t get their own work done because of a lack of cooperation from someone else, or an employee who always claims to be too busy with other work to really focus on the priorities being set elsewhere in the firm.

Going back to the canon of management literature, there’s hardly a text in recent memory that doesn’t stress the importance of team building.  There are significantly fewer, however, that recognize in an active sense that building great teams isn’t just about putting the right elements in place. It’s also about weeding out the wrong ones, even if that means getting rid of employees who may not necessarily be underperforming, but who just don’t fit. That, the Times piece suggests, is the secret to making the rest of a company’s employees happy, and to finding success. And who doesn’t want that?

Of course, there are a couple more questions worth considering as well, from an employee’s perspective: first, what does one do if one’s boss or supervisor happens to be the employee who doesn’t fit? And, second: what if you can’t identify that person? Does that mean it’s you? And if so, should you be thinking about finding alternate employment?

Should Company Employees Use a Rival’s Products?

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What do you do when you work for a company that produces something, but you prefer a competitor’s product? Seem like an unlikely scenario? Let’s be more specific: imagine you work for Microsoft, but you prefer Apple’s iPhone as your portable communications device. Should that be a problem, or should you be free to choose as you see fit?

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is quite clear on the subject: at a recent company retreat, he (almost literally) told employees that his policy is “Work for Ford, drive a Ford.” (Partly that’s because he grew up in Detroit with a father who worked for Ford. Partly, though, it’s likely because “work for Microsoft, use a cell phone that runs on Microsoft’s cell phone software” has slightly less snap, crackle and pop to it.)

Other Microsoft executives have apparently followed suit, with one, according to the WSJ, having gone as far as destroying his iPhone in a blender upon joining the company. That’s left employees who like their iPhones in something of a bind, with many feeling that they have to hide their iPhone usage to avoid falling out of favor with superiors. Further complicating the picture is the fact that some units at Microsoft actually make products that run on Apple technology.

Whether the situation’s any different over at Apple HQ, I’m not entirely sure, but I am reminded of a recent interview with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, in which he touted the Google Android as the best smartphone on the market, and confessed to toting around products from all of Apple’s rivals as a means of keeping in touch with what they were up to. Presumably that list also includes phones that run on Microsoft platforms.

I’m curious as to what other examples there are of  companies trying to prevent employees from using rival products–either as a matter of policy or by frowning upon the practice informally, as Microsoft seems to be doing (for now). Feel free to share any examples you’ve experienced or know of—use the comments field or find us on Twitter. While you’re at it, why not take our poll on the subject?

All told, my take on the subject would be as follows: when your employees are preferring a rival’s products over your own, that’s probably a sign that you should focus on making your own products better, rather than trying to restrict usage of your rival’s.

Written by Phil Stott

March 16, 2010 at 11:10 am

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