Delivering Happiness: Zappos Culture and Our Firm Absolutes

Aug 28, 2020 / By Debra Taylor, CPA/PFS, JD, CDFA
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How do you build and maintain a positive corporate culture? It starts with specifying core values that guide and inspire your team, like Zappos.

All firms have a corporate culture. And we all know that as a firm grows, this becomes increasingly important.

One company that has been known for its positive corporate culture is Zappos. Their CEO, Tony Hsieh (pronounced “Shay”) authored the New York Times bestseller Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose in 2010. In fact, Zappos is so dedicated to developing their firm culture that they have an entirely separate website dedicated to outlining their corporate culture and how they maintain it.

This dedication to employee happiness is sustained by the understanding that happy employees and a positive culture make for a better company—on pretty much any axis that you want to measure as “better.”

Their website quotes Gallup polls that reckon “unhappy employees cost American business over $300 billion each year” and that probability of job turnover at companies with “low company culture” is 48.4% while that probability drops to 13.9% when there is “high company culture.”

Additionally, a strong corporate culture sets up standards and expectations for how the operations of the company should be conducted. It is the incorporation of these standards into their core values that has helped Zappos to cultivate a more efficient and productive workforce and overall company.

So, how do you build and maintain a positive corporate culture? It starts with specifying core values.

Zappos 10 Core Values

  1. Deliver WOW through service.
  2. Embrace and drive change.
  3. Create fun and a little weirdness.
  4. Be adventurous, creative and open-minded.
  5. Pursue growth and learning.
  6. Build open and honest relationships with communication.
  7. Build a positive team and family spirit.
  8. Do more with less.
  9. Be passionate and determined.
  10. Be humble.

You will notice that these 10 core values vary in type. Some (3, 4, 9, 10) are purely about behavior and “vibe” while others address operations (1, 5, 7, 8).

At Taylor Financial Group (TFG), we are inspired by Zappos and have taken this mentality to heart. We do not have the same core values, because we are, after all, a small finance firm hoping to cultivate our own culture, and so our “Firm Absolutes” were built to capture exactly that.

In developing our firm values, we focused primarily on operations ideals. As a smaller firm, we are less in need of explicitly stating the kind of office culture we wish to maintain as we have only 10 team members in one space, hiring happens less often and is conducted largely by members of the team. In short, things are still a little informal at our firm.

Having said that, client service and delivering a superb result can not be left to chance, so we developed our own version of “Firm Absolutes” so things can be done the TFG Way.

Taylor Financial Group’s ‘Firm Absolutes’

  1. Listen carefully to clients and to each other when communicating with clients.
  2. Keep our word to each other and to our clients—Be super reliable and be honest!
  3. Don’t overthink things and don’t bury items.
  4. Don’t just do your job—be excellent at your job.
  5. Do things the TFG Way.
  6. Care about the clients. Treat them how you would want to be treated.

These values were constructed, first and foremost, to support our goal of clients first, and to deliver a constant experience.

We constantly go above and beyond for our clients because TFG understands that what we provide for our clients is not just excellent financial advice but freedom from the stress of financial unknowns and confusion. We want to be a safe haven to express personal concerns and problems, and we want to be the “problem solver.”

We joke that our client meetings are half annual financial review and half therapy session. But, that “therapy portion” is why our clients trust us, and that trust is what allows us to excel at our job.

Here is what our team has to say about our Firm Absolutes:

  1. ‘Listen carefully to clients and to Debbie when communicating with clients’ is important because listening to clients allows us to better understand the true needs and feelings involved in a particular situation. Because Debbie has known many of our clients for decades, her insight into situations is additionally helpful in that understanding. Ultimately, understanding our clients’ feelings allows us to better support them and create solutions more accurately tailored to their needs.”
    —Tyler Stalter, Operations Associate, Registered Representative
  2. ‘Keep our word to each other and to our clients—Be super reliable and honest!’ [This one] encourages integrity not only to our clients but to each other. Making each other as important as our clients makes for open and friendly communication in the office.”
    —Jennifer Mlynar, Financial Planning Administrator
  3. ‘Don’t overthink things and don’t bury items.’ Clients want immediate feedback, for better or worse. We need to get back to them in three hours, either with an answer or a time when we will have an answer.” —Debbie Taylor, Principal
  4. ‘Don’t just do your job—be excellent at your job.’ Being excellent at your job ensures clients will get the top-notch service they deserve. It also inspires the team to do their best work and to take personal pride in the work they do.” —Diane Curtin, Director of Client Services
  5. ‘Do things the TFG Way.’ So, things must be done only one way for predictability and efficiency.” —Rob Taylor, Chief Operating Officer
  6. ‘Care about the clients. Treat them how you would want to be treated’ is important in envisioning our clients as part of a family. We are ultimately in the service industry. Just because we aren’t in hospitality doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t make our clients feel comfortable during meetings.” —Robert Papa, Operations Associate, Registered Representative

Every firm should stand for something (probably a few things) and every firm should spell it out for internal stakeholders and for clients. Otherwise, how will anyone know what to do or expect?

Debra Taylor, CPA/PFS, JD, CDFA, is the principal and founder of Taylor Financial Group, LLC, a wealth management firm in Franklin Lakes, N.J. Debra has won many industry honors and is the author of My Journey to $1 Million: The Systems and Processes to Get You There, a book about industry best practices. She is also a co-creator of the Savvy Tax Planning program.

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