Culture Can’t Be Cookie-Cutter


When people ask us about our culture at Zappos, they’re typically looking for ways to bring a piece of what we’ve learned back to their own company. Founders, CEOs, and HR professionals alike are all trying to figure out a way to bring order to the sometimes-chaotic work of shaping their company’s culture. We try to answer these questions the best we can by speaking from experience but the truth is, authentic culture can’t be taught. Culture has to come from deep within an organization and is defined by everything about a company; from who is hired to how work gets done. It is a company’s identity, both externally and internally, and shines when those values are championed by each employee.

Without honest commitment from all levels to the culture your company has cultivated, you’ll be left with frustrated employees, lower productivity, and a long list of other roadblocks. It is our job as HR professionals to recruit, retain and develop talented people who are excited to come into your specific office every day. To do this effectively, we must create workplaces where people are respected, encouraged and included as part of a community they can call home.

At Zappos, we know that our culture and organizational structure are not for everyone and that’s why we’ve made a long-standing company commitment to hiring based on our 10 Core Values. For example, our recruiting team has worked hard to make culture a cornerstone of their process. They know that their jobs as gatekeepers to our company is incredibly important.

One way they rise to the challenge is by asking what we call ‘culture questions’ designed to get people out of their shells as fast as possible. It could be something as simple as, “How do you feel about Wednesdays?” or “If you could throw a parade, what would it be for.”  For us, the technical answers are important, but it’s just as important (if not more so) to do so in a way that is true to themselves. We want all of our employees to be comfortable bringing their whole selves to work and that starts with the recruiting process. This is yet another example of how each company must embody their own unique values instead of trying to implement the practices of someone else. If other companies used our tactic of asking these fun and weird ‘culture questions’ it might not yield the best candidates for their company.

The future of your company’s culture will be largely impacted by the HR team as they are there to not only help your company grow, but grow mindfully. This is why it’s so important to make sure your HR understands and embodies the culture that makes your company unique.


Hollie Delaney will join SHRM CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. and CHROs from Booz Allen Hamilton and John Deere to continue the conversation on all things work. Join the LIVESTREAM and ask your questions! 11/16, 12:30-1:45 p.m.  #WeAreWork

The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

Add new comment

Please enter the text you see in the image below: