Do Zappos’ Hiring Practices Lead to Groupthink?

Venkatesh Rao, reviewing Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s book, Delivering Happiness, cites the following quotes on the company’s hiring practices:

“Although it seems obvious in retrospect, probably the biggest benefit of moving to Vegas was that nobody had any friends outside of Zappos, so we were all sort of forced to hang out with each other outside the office.”

“I thought about all the employees I wanted to clone because they represented the Zappos culture well, and tried to figure out what values they personified. I also thought all the employees and ex-employees who were not culture fits, and tried to figure out where there was a values-disconnect.”

“There are a lot of experienced, smart, and talented people…but a lot of them are also really egotistical, so we end up not hiring them.”

“The best team members have a positive influence on one another and everyone they encounter. They strive to eliminate any kind of cynicism and negative interactions. Instead, the best team members are those that strive to create harmony with each other and whoever else they interact with.”

Rao’s assessment:

…these quotes should be huge red flags. They are the classic signs of groupthink, assumed consensus, suppression of real dissent and a determined elevation of harmony-seeking over truth-seeking. I doubt anyone at Zappos would agree with this harsh reading, but the conclusion is inescapable.

The best thing any employee can do is strive for honest interactions. When a company says its people strive to eliminate negative interactions, they’re conditioning themselves to miss internal red flags that will inevitably lead to problems in quality, innovation, and market responsiveness.

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