Culture Growth Mindset Values Vision

Growing Pains

Be fanatic about the culture you want to see in your company, and be even more fanatic in maintaining that culture.

Can a company grow too fast?

The answer to that question is yes, but many will struggle to provide me with that answer because they’ve never experienced it.

Only those who’ve gone through a period of excessive growth and had to deal with the consequences will answer the question with a yes.

The late Tony Hsieh, early investor and later CEO of Zappos, is one of those entrepreneurs who would answer the question with yes.

And I’m not referring to Zappos here. I’m referring to the first company he founded with two others, called LinkExchange.

LinkExchange made Tony rich, but that’s not the story here. 

The story is that Tony sold LinkExchange to Microsoft because he didn’t recognize his own company anymore. 

In his book about Zappos, which also addresses the years before Zappos, he describes how LinkExchange had gotten away from him.

As the company grew quickly, he soon didn’t recognize many of his employees anymore. 

But he did notice that those employees lacked the initial employees’ commitment and long-term goals which contributed to the dilution of the company culture.

Eventually, Tony lost passion and motivation and decided to sell the company. Microsoft negotiated that Tony and his co-founders would stay for one year to guarantee proper handover. 

But Tony left earlier, leaving a significant amount of the one-year retention bonus on the table. He simply could not live anymore with the company he founded himself.

The biggest lesson from his period at LinkExchange?

Be fanatic about the culture you want to see in your company, and be even more fanatic in maintaining that culture.

Before Tony decided to invest in Zappos, he paused.

He paused because, this time, he wanted to get it right. 

He took ample time to put all his lessons in a values document that defined the culture he wanted to see at Zappos. 

Tony slowed down before he even thought about speeding up again.

This is one of the most essential and toughest qualities a leader can develop.

The ability to stop when the entire world around you is screaming more and faster. 

When the pressure from your shareholders is mounting because they’ve heard signals that the competition is ramping up.

When fear of missing out is becoming so high, that every investment in solid strategy, competitive advantage, team collaboration, and, oh yes, culture is thrown out of the door.

That’s the moment great leaders separate themselves from lousy managers.

They resist the pressure.

When Tony was deliberating whether to invest in the idea of Zappos, he was under pressure. Cash was almost burned through. The company was at the virtue of bankruptcy.

Tony was in a hurry. So he developed these values:
  1. Deliver WOW Through Service
  2. Embrace and Drive Change
  3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do More With Less
  9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble

He added a clear description for each value, a question you can ask yourself, and sample behaviors.

This became the oath of employment at Zappos. You can find the full version here.

Years later, when Amazon bought Zappos for a shipload of money, they kept the values in place. Because they knew they should not touch the culture.

When in doubt, pause. No matter how high the pressure is.

Your turn: Are you in a hurry?

Do more of what makes you happy!


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Erikjan Lantink
Business & Leadership Coach

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