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Hiring for Values: Lessons from Zappos on getting the right people on the bus

What does it take for companies to go from ‘good’ to ‘great’? As per Jim Collins’ work on great organisations, one of the important factors in going from ‘good’ to ‘great’ is getting the right people on the bus. 

Imagine your organisation as a bus and you are the bus driver. The company is at a standstill. The first thought that now comes to mind is where does the bus go? What should be the direction? 

Collins argues that instead of focusing on where the bus should go, great companies start by considering who should be on the bus with them. They prioritize getting the right people in the right seats and removing the wrong people from the bus. 

But why is this so important? Firstly, if there’s a need to change direction, the right people will be open to it because they’re committed to building something great, regardless of the destination. They’re self-motivated and driven to achieve great results without needing constant prodding. And finally, even if you have the best strategy in the world, it won’t matter if you have the wrong people on the team.

So how do you get the right people in the right seats? It all starts with the recruiting process, which should focus on three parameters: values, will, and skill.

Values are the most crucial factor. If someone’s values aren’t aligned with your company’s, they won’t be a good fit. Even if they have the right skills and experience, they’ll likely cause problems in the long run. On the other hand, if someone shares your company’s values, they’re more likely to be committed to the company’s success.

Will is the second parameter. Will refers to a person’s willingness to do the hard work required to help your company succeed. Great work often requires patience, and sometimes even mundane tasks need to be done. You need people who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get the job done, no matter what it takes.

Finally, there’s skill. If someone shares your company’s values and has the will to succeed, you can teach them the necessary skills. According to Collins, “Unless someone is unable to learn or you need an incredibly unique set of skills, there is a high likelihood that you will be able to work with them so they are equipped for the job.”

Most companies look for skills first and values last. 

Great companies hire for value, will and skill, in that order. 

There is no better example of this than the journey of online shoe retailer, Zappos.

When Tony Hsieh took over as CEO of Zappos in 2000, the company was struggling. Its sales were stagnating, and its culture was in shambles. Hsieh knew that the company needed a complete overhaul, starting with the people.

So, he set out to hire the right people with the right values, and he did it in a big way. Hsieh made it a priority to create a culture of happiness, where employees felt valued and empowered. He even created a company manifesto called “The Zappos Family Core Values” which outlined the company’s commitment to delivering exceptional customer service and cultivating a fun and positive work environment.

Hiring for values was the key to Zappos’ success. The company would interview candidates for not only their skills and experience but also for their alignment with the company’s core values. The hiring process was not easy, but it was essential to the company’s success.

Zappos’ emphasis on values paid off. Its employees were not just happy, but they were also fiercely committed to the company’s mission. They went above and beyond for customers, and the company’s customer satisfaction ratings skyrocketed.

As a result of its focus on values, Zappos became one of the most successful online retailers of all time. In 2009, the company was acquired by Amazon for $1.2 billion. The emphasis on values has allowed Zappos to create a unique and strong corporate culture that sets it apart from its competitors. By hiring the right people who share its values, Zappos has been able to create a team of employees who are deeply committed to delivering exceptional customer service and building a truly great company.

Do you have the right people on your bus? If not, it’s time for a rejig.

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