by Joan Garbo

Create a culture of success using tips from an online shoe retailer


If you or someone you know loves shoes, then you’ve heard of, the company that went from a $0 company to a $1 billion company and mastered selling shoes online. When Zappos started in 2000, buying shoes online was restricted to men’s work boots, and it was widely considered impossible to successfully sell women’s shoes online. That was until Zappos created a new paradigm that opened a whole field of enterprise possibilities: Since Zappos’s success, eshoebuy, DSW, and numerous other shoe companies have succeeded at selling shoes online.

Zappos did for online shoe sales what Roger Bannister did for race runners in 1954 when he broke the record to run a mile in less than 4 minutes. Since his “myth-busting” performance, numerous runners have achieved even better results. (The current record was set in 1999 by Hichman El Guerrouj from Morocco, who ran a mile in 3 minutes 43 seconds.)

Structures for Success

Creating a new paradigm does not necessarily ensure continued success. Tunnels create new openings, but they will collapse on themselves if there are not support structures to maintain the opening and allow further digging. Zappos created structures for success when the founders developed their 10 core values as the foundation for everything they do, from hiring and training new employees to engaging customers and vendors. You can read about their inspiring journey in the book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose by Tony Hsieh, CEO and founder of Zappos.

Many consultants and business gurus recommend that companies establish a set of core values; many companies have a published list of these values. Whether or not this has the desired long-term impact depends on whether the list is just on paper or if the company actually “walks the talk.”

In 1983, I was the head of a branch office of a national training and development company. Among our core values were integrity and respect. The stated core values of the office determined our actions with employees, clients, and vendors, and led to establishing two operating principles: 1) don’t mess with people’s time; and 2) don’t mess with people’s money. So, for example, our meetings always started at the published time so that the on-time attendees would never have to wait for late-comers. Vendors knew we had a 2-week turnaround on invoices; if a customer requested a refund, the money was returned as soon as we knew the customer’s check had cleared our bank, which we checked as soon as the refund request was made. We became known as trustworthy, and our reputation furthered all our marketing efforts, especially among our clients who “spread the word” and became our volunteer sales force. We also were in the top 10 (among 28) most successful branch offices in the company.

Too often, when consulting in a practice, if I ask the orthodontist or staff about their mission statement, someone goes scurrying around looking for it. No one can actually tell me what it is without reading what they created (sometimes years ago) because they heard in a seminar or read in a book that they should have a mission statement. In my opinion, if you don’t know the talk, you can’t walk it. And if you don’t walk the talk, keep quiet!

An effective mission statement should reflect the core values of the practice; it announces to the community for what you are accountable and for what you want to be known. In effect, it sets the expectations for your patients and prospective patients. So if you don’t know what it says, yet put it up on your Web site or in your promotional materials, you can be creating potential upsets by not meeting the expectations you have set forth. (Definition of an expectation: An upset waiting to happen!)

When a mission statement is alive, the results can be impressive. For example, the Ritz-Carlton created a slogan that encapsulates its mission statement: “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” Anyone who has stayed in a Ritz-Carlton can testify to the high level of service they receive as a guest. The Ritz-Carlton keeps it alive by enumerating the standards of service, such as “greet each guest by his/her name whenever possible,” and keeps training the employees through repetition of the standards.

This leads into another aspect of breathing life into a mission statement: It must be clearly and specifically defined. Saying you are committed to excellence in service sounds good, but what does it mean? A mission statement from one of my clients states, “You can count on us to always be seeking improvement in our own lives and provide a positive outlook to share with you.” When you step into this practice, you can feel the positive outlook because they walk their talk.

The core values of your practice can and should be the distinguishing factors of your practice. They need to be what you look for in hiring new staff, the foundation for performance reviews, and (when need be) the reason for setting staff free. To quote a manager at Zappos, “We coach up or coach out,” based on its 10 core values.

Interview Insight

If you join, you can access its interview questions, as well as a wealth of other management principles. Each question is open-ended and designed to allow the applicant to demonstrate his or her core values so that the interviewer can see if the person is a “match.” Zappos gives more weight in an interview to the core-value assessment than to a prospect’s experience and education, since skills can be trained. While initially it is easier to hire someone with the right skills, the damage that can be done by hiring a skilled clinical assistant or administrator with a bad attitude or lack of integrity can be far more costly to the practice than having to train an unskilled person with the right attitude and great integrity. Remember, we were all unskilled at some time!

For the most part, when you hire someone who is a “match” to your core values despite a lack of experience and skills, and you train him or her to be successful, you will end up with a loyal employee who grows with the practice and nurtures its growth.

On a Mission

The best way to develop your core values and mission statement is to have the entire staff participate in its creation, as opposed to you creating them yourself and then telling the staff what they are. People have a stake in what they create themselves. One way to do it is to devote a staff meeting to the process: Have everyone write down the 10 core values that are important to them to have at work, and that make the experience of work pleasant and satisfying. Values such as fun, enthusiasm, and positive attitudes should not be overlooked in the effort to appear “professional.”

Then create a master list on a flip chart of what everyone wrote. Once the list is in front of the entire team, go through a selection process of what key core values everyone can agree on.

Using those core values, write up a mission statement that includes them in sentence form. The mission statement should be engaging and spark interest in the reader. Invite everyone to write up a version of the mission statement incorporating the core values, and submit it to a designated team of two or three people who will create two or three versions to be voted on at the next staff meeting. This will help create staff “buy-in.”

Give the mission statement a place of significance in the practice, not just in writing but in actions. For instance, have someone read the mission statement before each morning huddle and staff meeting. Each week, select one of the core values on which to focus; then publicly and in writing acknowledge team members for demonstrating the core value of the week. Use your imagination in making the core values alive in your practice.

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Finally, I recommend that the next time you are in Las Vegas, you schedule a tour of Zappos for you and your team. There are four a day, Monday through Thursday only, and they are free. There are also extended tours for a fee, ranging from an extra hour or so with the tour guide to half-day events. Zappos also offers other events that could be useful. You can check out for more details.

Now, go forth and get zapped!

Joan Garbo is a consultant, executive coach, and speaker. She has led more than 2,000 seminars and has trained hundreds of dental professionals in communication skills, self-expression, customer service, team-building, and leadership goals. She can be reached at or through her Web site,