What Law Firms Can Learn About Delivering Happiness from Tony Hsieh | CEO Zappos

In these changing times, we all need fresh ideas and inspiration.

Delivering Happiness delivers.  

Tony Hsieh’s recently released book, Delivering Happiness | A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose, is destined to be a classic Gen X must read business book following in the footsteps of other great Boomer reads such as Jim Collins’ Good to Great and Built to Last. I read it cover to cover and found tons of nuggets. Despite being a case study of an Internet retailer the nuggets should be pure gold for law firms who currently are struggling with their business model, culture or staff morale (law firm layoffs) in light of the recent economic landscape.

Here are just a few:

  • Figure out the game when the stakes aren’t high. Get core values in place, know who you are as a culture so you will be ready when the stakes get high.
  • Don’t play games you don’t understand even if you see a lot of other people winning at them, i.e. making a lot of money from them.
  • Take the focus off of “making money” put the focus on people; happy people, and passionate people, people who want to go to work tomorrow. What would it take?
  • Great companies (and great people) have a greater purpose and a bigger vision beyond just making money or being number one in the market…if you fall into this trap you never become a great company…the core values of your employees must go beyond the paycheck. The best gift you can give your employees is the perception that there’s something ahead for them…
  • Help shape the stories that people are telling about you. Do you want to be about the VERY BEST CUSTOMER SERVICE? How many people in your organization want to be known for the VBCS? Your culture is your brand.
  • A customer centric organization will execute exceedingly well on core competencies. A core competency of Zappos is shipping. They ship product. They promise customers delivery in 4-5 days, but they “upgrade” the service for almost all customers. It’s not something they have to do and it’s not something that increases their profits in the short term. It is something that creates a great customer experience.
  • Never outsource our core competency. Trusting a third party to care about your customers as much as you do is a big mistake.
  • What is the extra step? Think about some experience where you interacted with a person responsible for your satisfaction….what did they do?
  • Life values apply to both work and life…that’s they way they should anyway.
  • Make the transaction for the customer as easy and risk free as possible.
  • Make customer service a priority for the whole company, not just a department.
  • View each interaction as an investment in building a customer service brand, not an expense of time or staff you’re seeking to minimize….
  • How a company treats its vendors is a reflection on the company.
  • If you had to describe your company’s culture in two or three paragraphs, what would you say? If you asked your coworkers to do the same, what would they say? How different do you think their answers would be…

The World is Changing for Law Firms.

The power structure is shifting from the law firm to the client in the legal industry. That’s the word on the street from general counsel to clients, law firm leaders, marketers, and Michael Bremer, President of The Cumberland Group in Chicago. He addressed attendees last week in a keynote at the Legal Sales and Services Organization’s RainDance conference. He suggested that what is missing most when the average law firm tries to improve its position in a competitive market is a focus on customer value, engaged employees, and an executive mindset that knows these are the most important things.

According to a Gallup poll, in an average organization less than 30% of people say they are ‘highly engaged’ at work. Certainly the average level thinking of law firms of today fit in that mold. Worse is that they don’t see a need to change, don’t want to change, feel they’re already working at it and routinely push back on fresh ideas. How long can that be sustained and keep employees engaged?  If we’re not giving employees a voice with open environment, learning environment we’re loosing engagement. The firm misses out on good ideas when employees are not passionately engaged. To remedy this, it is leadership’s primary responsibility to create an environment where people can do their best work (this does not mean a well decorated office space and stocked break room).  It’s easy to say we want this to happen and we aspire to this but to be successful organizations must have above average thinking and strategy. Leadership needs to understand that customer loyalty IS linked with business performance.

Every employee of the organization is capable of driving customer loyalty and this is exactly the message you’ll find in Delivering Happiness.

Back to Zappos….

Delivering Happiness is an action packed story, easy to read in a few sittings, documenting how Tony Hsieh and his associates at Zappos did exactly what Michael is suggesting for law firms who want to succeed in the value game…create a workplace where employees are fully engaged, do their best work and exceed customer expectations because they perceive a greater purpose than making money. Zappos provides an open, learning environment that has made them one of the most successful Internet retailers of the decade. ( On Oct. 31, 2009 Amazon purchased Zappos for 1.2B. In Jan 2010 Zappos moved up 8 slots and was ranked #15 in Fortune magazine’s annual “Best Companies to Work For” list.)

Gen X

So, the book is really great and I highly recommend it…with a few sidebars.

  1. Tony built the culture of Zappos inspired by PLUR, an acronym for “Peace, Love, Unity, Respect” born out of the rave community.  (see here for Wikipedia description of Raves) (This may be a stretch of the imagination for anyone pre GenX. I had to adjust my thinking a bit and well, that’s exactly why I think the book is great. It made me think outside my box….yeah, hippies rule, right?)
  2. Tony had a “mysterious” and brief encounter with a woman following a New Year’s Eve party that involved ear whispering: “Envison, create, and believe in your own universe” which became a sort of mantra for him. (Not dissing that, just pointing out that again, not exactly the stuff you’ll hear from a managing partner of law firm…tee hee)
  3. Tony does not use proper grammar and sometimes the structure is weak. This was a distraction for me as I most enjoy well-crafted (written) books. True to his GenXer generation…he chose to write the book without the help of ghostwriter, and I get that but…. he also chose to use a lot of dangling prepositions to make his grade school English teacher cringe. I read an advance copy of the book and so some of the structural things may have healed themselves with an editor at the helm—hope so.

Otherwise, again, fantastic case study with lots of golden nuggets and inspiration for law firm leaders, marketers, human resource professionals and certainly anyone responsible for process improvement in an organization….

As a final note…gotta run down to my mail box….I looking forward to some happiness being delivered today…placed an order on Zappos last evening, got an email an hour later telling me it was packed and shipped and  already in route to my house  and may even get here today… LOVE YA ZAPPOS.

(Disclosure: I received an advance copy of Delivering Happiness through a call for bloggers who would write reviews. The criteria for receiving an advance copy was that I would give an honest review of the book, which if you got this far, you have read. Cheers!)

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