Climate Work is Not Just For Schools: Remembering Zappos CEO Toni Hsieh
People are mourning the passing of Toni Hsieh (46), the former CEO of Zappos Shoes. You may wonder why I would mention Toni on a blog dedicated to helping schools. When I connect with secondary educators, I often hear that we should not use positive approaches with our students. Their reason is that when students enter the “real world,” businesses do not do “soft skills” things like teaching and rewarding behavior. That’s true..except for companies that are both successful with their teams and their finances.
Identifying and Teaching Expectations
Toni Hsieh, a Taiwanese American, created one of the largest and most profitable online shoe companies globally, Zappos Shoes. Similar to what positive behavior support (PBS) researchers suggest, his team developed core expectations that guide their organization. Typically, in a PBS model, schools are encouraged to identify and teach three to five expectations. For example, a school team might decide that everyone in the community should be respectful, responsible, and safe. Although Zappos has more expectations than we might recommend for schools, there are similarities. At Zappos expected skills are taught and modeled for all employees. Here a list of Zappos’ ten expectations, which they call core values:
Zappos’ Ten Expectations
Deliver WOW Through Service
Embrace and Drive Change
Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
Pursue Growth and Learning
Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
Do More With Less
Be Passionate and Determined
Acknowledging Community Members
Another component of PBS in schools is to acknowledge the appropriate behaviors of students and staff. For example, you might have immediate acknowledgments such as tickets students can earn when demonstrating desired behavior (see this link for more examples of acknowledgment in secondary schools). Toni and his Zappos team also found ways to celebrate their employees when they engaged in the expected behaviors as well. For example, on any given day at his headquarters, you might find a parade or other celebration to highlight the ways an employee demonstrated the expected behaviors for their community. He believed that building a positive climate through acknowledging and celebrating successes was key to building an effective climate.
Here is a short video with examples of the ways the staff are celebrated at Zappos
Many secondary teachers have moved from one side of the desk as students to the other as teachers. Unfortunately, they may not be aware that developing a positive culture is key to success in many successful non-educational organizations. By helping teachers see the importance of positive strategies in post-secondary settings, you may see additional buy-in for addressing school climate.
I would recommend two other books to help provide secondary educators with perspectives on the way successful companies use positive behavior support like approaches. The first is called Leading With Luv, which is Southwest Airlines’ story (one of the only consistently profitable airlines in the United States). The second book is Being the Boss, a book by Harvard researchers on the surprising ways many prosperous Fortune 500 companies maintain their profits while addressing climate for their staff. Both books talk about ways that successful companies teach expectations, acknowledge their employees, and find ways to redirect problem behaviors in humane ways.
I would just like to thank you, Toni, for teaching me and so many others that treating people with humanity is good teaching and good business. Focusing on your climate is not just something businesses should be encouraged to do; it can be useful for any setting where two or more people come together. I think Toni said this sentiment better himself.
“For individuals, character is destiny. For organizations, culture is destiny.” – Tony Hsieh, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose
This blog was first posted at hankbohanon.net