How Does Zappos Operate as a Democratic Workplace?

How Does Zappos Operate as a Democratic Workplace?

Cruise ship captain describes key democratic features of online retailer

When the decision was made to formalize the core values of the online retailer Zappos, every one of the company’s approximately 1,800 employees was asked for their input on what those values should be.

“For us, it was important that our employees had a say in our core values since we were going to require them to live and breathe those values,” says Jamie Naughton, whose role as "cruise ship captain" involves managing many of the culture extras for which Zappos has become known, such as employee recognition programs, parties and events.

She refers to this situation as an example of how the company’s commitment to the principles of organizational democracy shapes what happens in the workplace.

Asked to define what organizational democracy means to Zappos, Naughton puts it this way: “Every employee has a voice and an extra role in the success of the company.”

To support that happening, the company aims to be as transparent as possible.

“For us, it’s really looking at what most companies consider confidential and asking why, why is this confidential?

“Why can’t our employees know this piece of information or that piece of information, and really putting no limits on the information that you can share with employees,” says Naughton.

Every one of the employees receives a daily report detailing how much Zappos has made, what the monthly goals are, how close the company is to reaching those goals, how much they’re spending on shipping and so forth.

The idea is that the more employees know, the better-positioned they are to contribute to the company’s success.

Part of the impetus for providing this report — particularly the inclusion of the monthly goals — came during the recession when the company was struggling to meet investor and owner expectations

“Now employees can see whether we’re meeting (the goals) or not, and if we’re not meeting our goals, then we can make small changes throughout the month to help the company in the long-run,” says Naughton.

Transparency is a key principle of organizational democracy, as defined by WorldBlu, a leadership and design business studio committed to driving the democratic workplaces movement.

Zappos also has built a workplace culture that values hearing from employees, welcoming their opinions and ideas and surveying them for input on certain company decisions.

The collaborative work on the company’s core values is one example of this.

While employees don’t contribute to every single company decision, honest feedback on any decision is encouraged.

“The root of democracy for us is that every employee can be honest,” she says. “So they always have a voice whether they like something or they don’t.”

Beyond transparency, participatory decision making and openness to ideas and opinions, Zappos also fits the bill on every other one of the principles of a democratic workplace as identified by WorldBlu, says Naughton.

“There are 10 principles for organizational democracy and I think each one of those is very important. Even though we have our own 10 core values, they can be represented in each one of these principles,” she says.

“We live organizational democracy at our core.”

Even the company office is structured in the spirit of democracy. Everyone, from the front-line staff to the company CEO Tony Hsieh, sits in an identically-sized cubicle.

Hsieh will be sharing more about Zappos’ commitment to organizational democracy at the upcoming WorldBlu 2010 awards event in Las Vegas.

Related story: Organizational Democracy Drives Success of Billion-Dollar Online Retailer Zappos

If you have feedback on this article please contact michelle(at), or call the newsroom at 800-294-0051.


Writer Bio

Michelle Strutzenberger's picture
Michelle Strutzenberger

Michelle Strutzenberger has been a Generative Journalist and curator with Axiom News for more than 15 years.

She's most grateful for the incredible people she gets to work with every day at Axiom News, as well as the many other amazing folks she's encountered through this work.

"I have always seen the opportunity to do this work as a gift," she says.

Michelle's writing has also been published by a wide variety of other organizations and publications, including the following:
- Abundant Community, an initiative of authors John McKnight and Peter Block to awaken the power of families and neighbourhoods
- PLAN Institute, a network dedicated to enabling families to create a good life for people with disabilities
-.New Scoop YYC, Calgary's news co-op practicing Generative Journalism
- The Canadian Community Economic Development Network
- Nieuwmakers, a Belgian news agency
- Restore Commons, an initiative of Peter Block and friends
- Academy for Systemic Change

Contact Michelle: 705-741-4421 ext. 27 or michelle(at)

Reprint This Story

Axiom News content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Stories may be reprinted in their entirety with permission and when appropriately credited.

Please contact Axiom News at
1-800-294-0051 for more information.