How Does Zappos Encourage Employee Development?


While recruiting top talent is always front of mind for most companies, focusing on employee development can often fall to the wayside. Offering training resources for employees to grow and hone their skills can be an invaluable asset to any organization. Zappos Core Value #5, Pursue Growth and Learning, encourages Zappos employees to always be growing, both personally and professionally. One way that Zappos helps them do this is through a department created specifically for employee development, ZapposU.

In 2008, the concept of ZapposU started with the launch of two classes, Project Culture and Communication. The goal was to offer classes that focused on helping employees develop soft skills and characteristics that a strong leader would embody. Soon classes like Finance and Public Speaking followed. Before long, departments were requesting training tools and department-specific classes. “It really evolved organically,” says Diana Guido, ZapposU Trainer. Department-specific classes are taught by department experts on those topics and often supplement certain progression paths.

A sampling of classes offered today includes The Art of Storytelling, Excel, Pimp My PowerPoint, and The Science of Happiness. Employees can also get a glimpse of other departments with classes like Intro to Merchandising or Intro to Social Media. ZapposU classes aren’t limited to certain departments, either. “Our classes are taken by employees from all different departments so it facilitates an interdepartmental conversation,” says Beverly St. John, ZapposU Trainer. “Our classes are different in that they are discussion-based rather than a lecture model,” adds Guido.

One unique resource that ZapposU also offers to all Zappos employees is ZapposU For Hire. Departments and teams can request custom-built training that can focus on more than just work-related skills. For example, say two teams are merged into one. They can request a team-building activity centered around getting to know new team members. ZapposU For Hire can also facilitate activities that help teams build upon their strengths.

Rather than use external trainers and training materials, ZapposU consists of in-house trainers and content developers that all share a unique glimpse and offer particular insight into Zappos departments and the company as a whole. Any course content that is created must align with the Zappos culture in order for it to be implemented.

One of the biggest challenges ZapposU faces is class participation from employees that have been at Zappos longer than 2-3 years. While there is an uptick when new classes are launched or new system trainings are offered, St. John observes that overall “we’ve noticed percentages go down, and whether people don’t take as many because they have more on their plate, people still need to realize there’s more to learn.” Finding more hours in the day is a challenge all employees can relate with. ZapposU sees a lot of success with teams taking classes together, especially when a team suggests it over a manager forcing it. Voluntary participation always works better than mandatory. Company leaders and seasoned employees are encouraged to be role models by pursuing growth and learning through available classes. ZapposU also hosts frequent open houses explaining all the different offerings and answering questions employees may have.

Not only does ZapposU serve as a source of learning, they also act as a hub for mandatory training such as security awareness, payroll, or specific department progression paths. Outside of those courses, ZapposU classes are voluntary. The team has found that delivery of the message is also important. “It’s all about the mentality and how it’s presented. We want employees to approach it with an open mind,” says St. John. Rather than seeing it as a checklist to run through, employees are encouraged to see the classes as a continuous source of learning. To further empower employees to take initiative in their own professional development, ZapposU offers a sign-up portal for classes called ULearn. Employees can access it anytime to sign up on their own, see current offerings, and access online content and training aids. ZapposU classes are offered on-site during the work day and Zappos employees must be on the clock while attending a class. Getting paid to learn? Score!

What began as a suggestion from Zappos’ first employee, Fred Mossler, has grown into a valuable resource from which all Zappos employees can benefit. Employee development doesn’t just help employees. Organizations that invest in their employees’ learning can see an uptick in both productivity and employee retention. Excellent dividends, indeed.  


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Author: Erica Spelman

Tags: Culture, Training

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