Nonprofit Jedi Training

I recently came across a post by Robert Richman called My Zappos Jedi Training. Robert works with ZapposInsights and does a lot of thinking and work around organizational culture.

But we’re not just talking about “organizational culture” in the standard, canned human resources department orientation way but rather organizational culture that is broad and deep: a culture in which everyone involved lives a shared mission inside and outside the organization.

When I mention Zappos you probably get a sense of where this is headed. As you may know, Zappos is regarded as a leader in changing the way organizational culture works from the ground up. Zappos is a company built around great customer service in which customers and employees are all treated well. Zappos’ CEO, Tony Hsieh, has gone so far as to write a book called Delivering Happiness. We’ll get back to just what Zappos does later, perhaps, or you can read Richman’s post.

So Richman writes a post about Zappos’ organizational culture and the training involved. Zappos is a for-profit company known for mission-driven culture. Yes. For-profit and mission-driven.

While I think we hear a lot about nonprofit organizations being mission-driven I don’t have experience being in/around or hearing about nonprofits that come anywhere close to a mission-driven culture of kindness that seems to be what Zappos believes is at the core of its success at (of all things) selling shoes (and lots of other clothing these days).

It can be hard to get a job anywhere today but it has always been exceptionally tough to get one at Zappos. And once you do they will offer you a bonus to quit (not to stay but to quit). They want people that not just want to be there but love it.

Every new Zappos employee goes through the same training process. It is a process that isn’t about corporate HR policies and benefits but is more akin to a leadership retreat. The goal is to instill a shared and honest confidence around the way in which staff treat one another and their clients or customers.

Have you seen something similar in a nonprofit? What if everyone that came into an organization was immersed in the same week-long high-touch immersion that focused on creating a common language for interacting with people, members, donors, subscribers as well as the ‘core priniciples’ of the organization.

What if we focused on the passion of the mission and conveying the depth and quality of that passion in every interaction our staff has with people inside, outside, online, in person, during work and after hours?

If an organization’s mission statement talks about inspiration then inspiration shouldn’t be just a word in a mission statement. It needs to be a way of living that is reflected in the way people talk, think, write, interact. No matter your work or mission, the people in and around the organization are its ambassadors. Word of mouth starts there. Staff need to be clear, focused and wildly passionate if they hope to see others carrying the message to friends, family and others.

We have some ideas about creating and fostering meaningful organizational culture in nonprofits to share later. I’d love to hear your comments and examples of ways in which organizations are creating deep, strong culture.

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