Management is a complex field that requires a comprehensive approach in order to satisfy the expectations of the stakeholders. A number of skills have been identified as essential for enhancing organizational performance and maintaining a positive culture that promotes innovation and creativity. The following report analyses five skills incorporated by Zappos, a highly successful online clothing shop, using the framework provided by Maslow’s theory of needs hierarchy.
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The supportive communication skills are essential for establishing trust between employees and managers in the workplace as well as between a company and its customers. The easiest way to determine the benefits of communication is through the framework offered by Maslow’s theory of the hierarchy of needs (Jex and Britt 2014). According to the theory, the psychological deficit created by the inability to satisfy a need immediately may create tension in the working environment, and, by extension, trigger the change of behavior in the form of the emerging conflicts. The tensions push individuals to seek ways of satisfying their needs.
However, according to the deficit principle, once satisfaction is achieved, the motivational factor disappears, and a need from the higher stage of the hierarchy comes into play. It is important to understand that the needs are to be satisfied in order from the low-level ones (e.g., food and clothing) to high-level ones (e.g., esteem, self-actualization, the safety of working conditions, and physical and emotional comfort in the workplace).
As can be derived from the categorization above, supportive communication falls within the higher-level needs group, since its main contribution to the workplace environment revolves around intangible values such as trust, comfort, security, and safety. In the case of Zappos, supportive communication is incorporated into the workplace culture. According to the company’s code of ethics, its managers strive to provide open and honest relationships using communication as their main instrument (Christoffersen 2017). At this point, it is necessary to point out an important aspect of this goal, which lies in the relatively broad definition of the concept of communication.
First, it is important to acknowledge the emphasis on honesty and transparency, which facilitates the necessary degree of trust and, by extension, the sense of security. Next, well-established communication channels are beneficial for strengthening the ties between the involved stakeholders, including business partners, employees, customers, and vendors. Such a focus on supportive communication allows Zappos to operate more efficiently than other organizations in their business segment, thus contributing to the competitive advantage.
In addition, successful communication is expected to be more efficient as an approach to developing mutually beneficial solutions to existing problems, as well as detecting and preventing possible issues in the future. Due to its descriptive, rather than evaluative, characteristics, it is also expected to validate employees and enhance engagement in the workplace.
Motivation is another managerial skill that is cited as a reason for Zappos’ outstanding performance. Motivation is the inherent component of Maslow’s theory of human need hierarchy. Specifically, motivation is a driving force behind the individual urge to satisfy needs. It can be argued that physiological needs are the least apparent in this context due to the fact that they are usually completely satisfied by monetary incentives.
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Safety needs, on the other hand, can be successfully addressed by creating reliable communication channels for providing the workers with a sense of direction, clarifying the goals, and organizing regular reviews for teams intended to detect inconsistencies and adjust the progression wherever necessary. However, social and self-actualization needs are addressed using more complex interactions.
The brightest example is a hiring program used by the company to find suitable candidates and ensure that they remain in the company. First, the candidates participate in an immersive four-week program intended to familiarise them with the company’s organizational culture, strategy, and customer-centered approach. Second, and, perhaps, more importantly, after the initial immersive experience, the candidates are approached by the company representative, who offers them a full salary for the amount of time spent in the company plus an additional incentive in the form of $2000. In order to receive the payment and the bonus, a candidate is to quit training immediately.
It is necessary to point out that on the surface, such a move is expected to undermine the engagement of future employees since it essentially discourages employee retention. However, it has been established that the people that are willing to accept an offer are less likely to stay in the company in the long run. It is apparent that a strong orientation towards the satisfaction of the customers’ needs is the chief reason behind Zappos’ success.
Therefore, it is to be expected that the ability of the candidates to comply with the company’s requirements and accept corporate culture determines their efficiency as employees. By extension, the ones that are willing to accept an offer in exchange for a one-time compensation are less likely to demonstrate commitment in the future. The described strategy has proven its effectiveness numerous times, which is partially confirmed by the gradual increase of the bonus by 20 times from the initial sum of $100 (Taylor 2014). In this way, Zappos is ensuring that only the most committed candidates are passing the training program and contribute to the working process by demonstrating commitment and motivation.
Empowerment is one of the most important determinants of organizational performance. Several skills are commonly cited as responsible for achieving the desired level of empowerment, with team development, trust-building, and inclusion being among the most common candidates. Zappos has demonstrated exceptional results in achieving high empowerment levels among its employees. While this outcome can be partially attributed to intra-organizational trust enabled by open and transparent communication discussed in the previous section, it is also necessary to acknowledge several specific and inventive practices that greatly increase the effect.
In the case of Zappos, the desired level of empowerment is achieved by providing additional benefits to its employees, including a compressed workweek and healthcare coverage (Bauer & Erdogan 2015). More importantly, the organizational culture in the company promotes empowerment through the strategy of inclusiveness. In this way, the workers receive an opportunity for self-actualization associated with satisfactory employment experience.
Some of the core values used in the company’s code of ethics appeal directly to high-level needs. For instance, one of the values lists adventure, creativity, and open-mindedness as approaches that are expected from their employees (Zappos 2018).
The core values also suggest building a positive team and family spirit, thus establishing a welcoming setting that is supportive and friendly. Such an approach is expected to boost determination in achieving the set goals and promote passion in the workplace. Finally, the core values list fun and weirdness as beneficial additions to the working process, empowering the workers to exercise additional creativity and, more importantly, provide emotional and psychological comfort for the employees who value originality and uniqueness.
As can be seen from the example above, Zappos uses a two-pronged approach to empower their employees. First, it successfully combines traditional compensation strategies with innovative components, such as providing their employees with opportunities for self-actualization. Second, it strives to create an open, transparent, and positive workplace culture that favors uniqueness by rewarding inclusiveness. This aspect allows for increasing creative and innovative capacity and enhancing the perception of achievement, which, in turn, boosts individual self-esteem.
The fourth component responsible for the performance of Zappos is the emphasis on conflict management. Conflict is a major disrupting factor in the workplace, being associated with numerous issues. The most evident ones stem from emotional and psychological discomfort and, by extension, a deteriorating workplace climate. From the perspective of Maslow’s theory of needs hierarchy, conflicts span across safety, social, and esteem levels of needs.
Safety needs are impacted the most by the conflicts between the workers and the management, which are inevitably perceived as threats to job security (Jex and Britt 2014). Social needs are compromised by the damaged social status of both sides of a conflict, with extended damage dealt in the aftermath of the incident, where time is devoted to unproductive activities such as gossip. Finally, the esteem level is impacted by major or prolonged conflicts, in which the professional interests and issues get overshadowed by personal matters and driven by emotion rather than reason.
However, it is also important to acknowledge that conflicts may serve as indicators of inconsistencies in the company’s mode of operations. In simple terms, conflicts signal the need for adjustment of certain procedures and, when managed appropriately, introduce negligible negative effects.
Zappos’ approach to conflict management is organized using a clearly defined procedure and enhanced with a self-management, self-organization culture (Reingold 2016). The procedure in question consists of three well-defined and easily accomplishable steps. First, it is recommended to organize a one-on-one meeting with an individual representing the other side of the conflict. In this case, it does not work; the next logical step is to bring the issue in front of a peer council.
Finally, it is possible to address the problem by reaching high-ranked managers (due to the relatively flat organizational structure, the final step is usually reserved for the CEO). However, it is important to understand that the described system is backed by the culture of self-organization and self-management that permeates the workplace. Among other things, the said culture ensures that employees will try to avoid bringing the conflict in front of their peers and instead try to take full responsibility and settle it on their own.
Once the conflict resolution process is clear and effective enough, and the stakeholders understand the advantages of self-management, it is reasonable to expect a commitment to maintaining a healthy emotional environment in the workplace and independently address conflicts that could not be avoided discreetly and effectively.
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The final aspect of the managerial skill set that requires skill development is team effectiveness. As was extensively covered in previous sections, Zappos is known for its outstanding performance in the market and constantly seeks to further improve its results through adjustments of the corporate culture. The most apparent effort can be observed in the utilization of the company’s core values mentioned above. These values are extensively used by Zappos’ HR department in the hiring process.
For instance, job descriptions rely heavily on these values and communicate them as clearly and unambiguously as possible. At the same time, the working environment contains numerous minor details intended to promote and encourage them in the most non-intrusive way possible. For example, an interview used as a part of the hiring process contains several questions intended to assess the candidate’s congruence with the core values.
Even more important, however, is the emphasis on a collaborative mindset that is observable in the majority of the core values. The team members are encouraged to work in collaboration not only by the availability of tangible incentives for notable progress but also by the co-worker bonus award unique to the company. Each of the team members receives $50 that they are expected to award to their colleagues based on their performance. Such an approach offers several benefits over the bonus programs provided by the management. First, it creates a more personalized emotional connection between the employees who work in one team.
Such a connection appeals to the social needs identified in Maslow’s theory of needs hierarchy. Second, it strengthens the internal bonds within the team without formalizing the criteria of performance. As a result, the team effectiveness is increasing organically, rather than artificially, which contributes to commitment. Finally, it is important to recognize the role of the cultural aspect of team interactions. The issue is addressed at the managerial level by assigning significant weight to cultural fit interviews and setting them earlier in the process than other firms in the industry.
This allows Zappos to ensure that the final teams are fully functional and tightly interconnected entities that sustain effectiveness through self-management and self-organization as well as emotional connection and a healthy workplace climate.
Zappos is recognized as one of the greatest examples of a successful application of corporate culture to leverage organizational performance. By providing supportive communication, empowering and motivating their employees, and integrating self-management in the conflict resolution process, the company management has achieved an exceptional level of team effectiveness and eliminated the majority of tensions arising from a deficit of high-level deficiencies outlined in the theory of needs hierarchy.
Bauer, T., & Erdogan, B., 2015. Organizational Behavior. 2nd Edition. Washington: Flat World Knowledge.
Christoffersen, T., 2017. Our Common Core: Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication. Las Vegas: Zappos. Web.
Jex, S. M., and Britt, T. W., 2014. Organizational Psychology: A Scientist-Practitioner Approach. 3rd Edition. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons
Reingold, J., 2016. A Move to “Self-Management” Has Shaken the Online Shoe Retailer. Can It Regain Its Mojo?. Chicago: Fortune. Web.
Taylor, B., 2014. Why Amazon Is Copying Zappos and Paying Employees to Quit. Brighton: Zappos. Web.
Zappos, 2018. Zappos Family Core Values [online]. Las Vegas: Zappos. Web.