INTERVIEW: Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh

I recently saw a Tweet that caught my attention.  It was from Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos and it reminded me of my first day as a HR manager.

I was brand new to the hotel.  Arrived at work all anxious and ready to start.  Someone showed me to my office and, while I was poking around looking at everything, my boss ran in, threw his suit jacket on my chair and said he would be back later.

Odd...so I followed him to see what kind of commotion he was running to.  Well, it was the kitchen...specifically, the dishroom.  It seems the dishwasher went on break and never came back.  No one realized it until...well um, we were out of dishes.  So, the general manager was washing dishes.

And, within seconds...so was this brand new human resources manager.

So when I saw Tony's tweet...I couldn't help but smile.  Had to reach out and see if he would share some of his thoughts with the Bartender.  And, Tony was nice enough to oblige:

1.  You made headlines with your honest and open approach during Zappos recent layoffs.  We hear so much about how employees feel when their job is eliminated.  Can you share a little bit of what it feels like when a CEO realizes they have to eliminate jobs?

When we laid off employees in early November, we posted on our blogs the same email that was sent to our employees:

A follow up email was sent to employees the week after:

Having to lay off employees is never a good feeling. We considered many different options, and ultimately decided that given the economic environment and our revenues at the time, it was the best thing to do for the long term health of the company.

Many people have heard the story from awhile back about the hiker whose arm was trapped under a rock, and he ended up cutting off his arm to save himself. If he hadn't, he would have probably starved and died, so he made the hard but rational choice of cutting off his arm. We essentially had to do the same thing.

That's not to say that it wasn't a hard thing to do. It was certainly a difficult emotional experience for everyone in the company. But the good news is that we are now a healthier company than we otherwise would have been.

2.  As a human resources professional, I'm always interested in a CEO's vision for HR.  If I worked for you...what three things would you expect from me?

1) Live the Zappos culture

2) Inspire the Zappos culture in all of our employees

3) Implement and improve processes so that our culture can scale. In most companies, the company culture goes downhill as the company gets bigger.  Figure out how to actually make the culture stronger as the company grows

You can learn more about the Zappos culture here.

3.  Obviously, Zappos has a large social media presence that reaches a wide audience.  Do you utilize social media with your internal customers (employees) as well?  If so, in what way(s)?

We use Twitter in a big way. New employees are introduced to Twitter during orientation, and we also offer Twitter classes to all employees. We've found that it's a great way to form more personal connections with both employees and customers.

We have several hundred employees on Twitter. You can find a list of them here. And we've aggregated all their tweets here.

4.  Lastly, here at HR Bartender, we do serious work but try not to take ourselves too seriously.  So, my last question is what's your favorite drink (adult or not)?

Grey Goose martini with blue cheese stuffed olives.

A big thanks to Tony for sharing his insights.  It's companies like Zappos, that make their culture transparent to consumers, who will not only survive but thrive over time.  Consumers like to buy stuff from people they know and trust.  You can learn more about Zappos or follow Tony on Twitter.

This is one bartender who knows where her next pair of shoes is coming from...