This is Part 5 (and the last) in my series of “What I Learned at Zappos Culture Camp”

By Gina Trimarco, Chief Results Officer

Unhappy people are unhappy because they plateau. Employees always want to grow. It’s the key to retention,”

said a Zappos “People Development” team member during my Zappos Culture Camp experience.

When you walk through the halls of in Las Vegas, you can feel the positive and creative energy bouncing off the walls. Employees truly appear to be happy. And how couldn’t they be? They get free breakfast and lunch, they have flexible hours, there’s a free gym on site, as well as “mother’s rooms” for nursing moms, 80+ free classes to choose from at Zappos U (including a “Booze & Brush” class) and a plethora of many other perks. If you understand ANYTHING about Millennials, this is THE ultimate work environment for them.

I think many employers today see companies like Zappos and Google as a thorn in their sides for attracting employees because many employees today want these perks that most employers can’t afford to offer. Can’t or won’t, is the real question? AND for Zappos, their retention strategy, in my opinion, goes beyond “perks”. Furthermore, it differentiates them from other employers, which thus makes them the more attractive employer.

If you want to attract top talent, it starts with an intentional recruitment plan, followed by onboarding training, continuous training, and growth opportunities. Perks like ping pong tables are just the proverbial cherry on the sugar-free and vegan sundae.


The purpose of the “People Ops” (aka HR Department) at Zappos is “A connected environment where people can grow into the best versions of themselves.” I can already hear the murmuring from the more conservative reader. Sounds soft and lofty to you, yes? It’s kind of like when we at Pivot10 Results try to sell improv-based training to clients for soft skills development. It’s hard to grasp the ROI on this. I still stand by “happy employees are productive employees”. And the reality is that Millennials will account for 50% of the job force by 2020. From everything I read and watch, they are most attracted to companies of purpose where they will have opportunities to collaborate, learn and grow.

We work with many clients who say “We just don’t have time for training” and this applies to both exempt and non-exempt employees. After spending three days at a Zappos Culture Camp I see how this mindset can be detrimental and costly.


All new hires go through the same four-week training program when they on board. All new hires. From the Customer Loyalty Team reps working the phones to the highest management positions. One reason is that all employees are required to answer the phones during the holidays. The other reason, in my opinion, would be to create empathy and understanding about what it takes to be in that role plus an understanding of customer needs. This puts everyone in the company on the same page to deliver the best customer service (the company’s mission).

In that four weeks of training they learn through core value presentations, shadowing/observations, role playing and doing the job (being on customer calls) while being coached. They get ongoing feedback, learn where to get help (resource tools) and most importantly, they are taught how to be empowered. New hires experience team building activities with their “class”, have Q&As with upper management, take a test (they must pass), receive “the offer” to leave the company and have a graduation event.

The “offer” to leave the company is an opportunity for employees to decide if they think Zappos is a good fit for them. Basically – this four weeks of training is a trial period for both Zappos and the new hires. Zappos pays people to leave. Sounds crazy, but it’s the next safeguard just in case they made a mistake during the recruitment phase.

Isn’t it better to have an employee exit early then to ultimately grow disenchanted and possibly poison other employees? You know what I’m talking about. We’ve all made that “subjected fit” hire because we needed a warm body that could do the job, but just did NOT fit in with the team. By the way, only one percent actually takes the offer.

Oh, and things like policies and expectations are also covered during this onboarding process for a fraction in comparison most companies covering only policies and expectations (and no real training).  And most companies probably don’t have “Bring It” Cheer Coaches on their onboarding teams like Zappos does. They create a culture that makes people say “How do I apply?” Well, at least that’s what I said at the end of three days.


The biggest challenge I see for a company like Zappos, with so many Millennials, is retention. Studies show that the Millennial generation (born 1980-1995) will stay at a job for less than five years. They want to build their resumes and move on. If you’re going to employ this generation you need to find ways to meet their needs of working for a company with a bigger purpose that gives opportunity for building skills in a collaborative environment.


One of the most unique “perks” at Zappos is Zappos U, an internal “university” of 80+ classes. A partial class list includes: Business Acumen (Excel, PowerPoint, P&L statement analysis), Public Speaking, Conflict Resolution, Merchandise Buying, Art (“Booze & Brush”), Improv For Customer Service, and Leadership. Employees can take classes for free “on the clock”. What a brilliant way to keep employees engaged by giving them growth and development opportunities.

Zappos is not big into “3rd Party Trainers” and their “People Development” team leads Zappos U classes, as well onboarding training. The People Development team members work as consultants to the other departments (“circles” per their Holacracy structure), employing a variety of tools based on the needs of the employees. From Meyers-Briggs to “Z60” Culture Assessments. They try to stay on the cutting edge of all training. During my time at Culture Camp they were talking about bringing on Emotional Intelligence training. They also feel that instructor led training is stronger and more effective than online and virtual training. As for performance reviews, each “circle” designs its own performance review process (there isn’t one standard review for the entire company) so that employees are measured properly.


And then of course there are the other benefits:

  • Free health and dental care (50% off for family)
  • “Karma Adventures” – community service on the clock
  • On premise gym
  • Free breakfast and lunch
  • Nap rooms
  • Maternity leave (20 weeks)
  • Paternity leave
  • Peer-To-Peer Monthly Bonuses (every employ has a budget of $50 per month to give to a peer) – “Zollars” can be used to buy a variety of items
  • Zappos “Hero Of The Month” – which comes with a cape
  • Wishez – employees can request anything and a committee grants wishes for those things, liking paying for an airlines ticket to visit a sick parent.


Sometimes it doesn’t work out. Expectations and needs change for both the employee and Zappos, so they created a unique Exit/Outplacement experience called the Hero’s Journey, which provides transition support to “wow them on the way out”. Exiting employees are offered numerous services including certified life coaches, custom plans, networking and LinkedIn classes and mentor program. If you gotta go, go big!


No wonder they get 23,000 applicants per year, with a 11% turnover rate, which is above average. Depending on who you ask, call centers replace anywhere from 30-45% of their frontline reps annually, compared to the 15.1% overall turnover rate in the U.S., reported in 2013. And even though Zappos dropped off of Forbes Top 100 Companies To Work For list, probably because of Holacracy, they still seem to be fostering and maintaining a happy culture that strives to prevent plateaus in performance and profits.


If you’re feeling stuck, it’s time to pivot!

P.S. Need help with pivoting from employee plateau to higher performance and profits? Now is the time to strategize your plan for 2017. We can help you pivot with THIS PLAN. Or email


Gina Trimarco, Chief Results Officer, knows how toGina Trimarco, Pivot10 Results, Business Coach, Sales Trainer pivot to profits from problems and find joy through the process. Her philosophy is that performance pays and people need to be trained to perform on the stage of business to achieve results.

Gina successfully pivoted from her entertainment company Carolina Improv Company to spinning off Pivot10 Results, a strategic training and consulting firm that helps business teams to quickly adapt their communications and engagement skills in leadership, customer and sales to achieve results by providing them experiential learning tools and strategies.

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About the author

Gina Trimarco is a native of Chicago and CEO/Founder of Pivot10 Results and Carolina Improv Company. She has 25+ years of experience in marketing, sales, operations and people training. Gina combines street smarts and improv comedy skills with her experience in the corporate and entrepreneurial worlds, which sets her apart from her competition.

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