Human Resources

When Culture Kills and How to Develop a Change Culture

19 February 2023



How much would you offer new hires to resign? And what do you think of the idea?

“The Offer” is the brainchild of Tony Hsieh, Zappo’s quirky co-founder. Hsieh was so passionate about retaining the Zappo culture he offered new recruits US$4000 to resign. A no-brainer for anyone who found they weren’t fitting in.

Amazon adopted the practice when it bought Zappo in 2009. And I met Hsieh the following year when we hired him to speak at our Las Vegas global conference. I found him incredibly inspiring, so was sad at the news of his tragic death late in 2020. (He’d headed the hugely successful American online fashion retailer for 21 years by then.)

Static Cultures Kill

It’s a truism that our greatest strength can also be our greatest weakness. Partying was a central feature of Hsieh’s work and personal life. But it didn’t equip him for the isolation of

the pandemic. A plethora of escapist tendencies, including substance abuse and physical deprivation experiments, ultimately took its toll.

And yes, the pandemic is an extreme example of change. But there are classic cases of strong cultures that failed to adapt to change, such as Kodak and Xerox. So how do we build back stronger and create a #changeculture?

Tip #1: Build Trust and Confidence in Leadership

Strong relationships between leaders and workers will always make change easier. Where workers perceive leaders to act with integrity, their resistance to change is lessened. They trust leaders to act in the organization’s interests.

Tip #2: Equip Leaders with Change-Enabling Skills and Tools

When leaders demonstrate a “change mindset”, they provide an example for workers to follow. Employing change-enabling practices, such as routine retrospectives, ensures all

voices are heard.

Tip #3: Know Your Purpose

Culture without purpose is just a meaningless set of learned behaviours. A clearly defined purpose allows culture to respond to changing environments and stimuli.