A version of this article previously appeared on Forbes.
Ms. August Scott began her Zappos career in their customer support call center. Her positive attitude and willingness to take chances rapidly propelled her to the coveted and influential position of Coach.
I met Augusta when I toured Zappos’ headquarters as part of the Downtown Project’s Catalyst Creative Speaker series (you can view my talk here).
Several Zappos employees had mentioned “Coach” and the impact she has had on the corporation during our tour. When we passed her in the hall, her face lit up and she gave us a joyous greeting. Despite our brief encounter, it was clear to me that Augusta Scott has charisma and charm at a level few people possess.
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You can watch a 14-minute excerpt from my conversation with Augusta below.
Take Care When Making Wishes
Augusta’s rise from Zappos’ call center was enabled by the Company’s culture, which encourages personal growth. According to Augusta, “In most corporations you have to go through certain protocol and processes. We do have processes here, but it’s something I was passionate about… (so I knew I was free to) find a way to go ahead and take that journey and achieve (my goals). So I took a journey of growth and learning, which is one of our core values, core value number five.”
In addition to the fifth core value, Augusta’s journey was supported by several other Zappos’ fundamental beliefs, namely: 2, 4, 7, 9 and 10, as described below.
1. Deliver WOW Through Service
2. Embrace and Drive Change
3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
5. Pursue Growth and Learning
6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
8. Do More With Less
9. Be Passionate and Determined
10. Be Humble
“I started in the call center, in the customer loyalty department… and I loved it. I love assisting our customers and I realized early on about Zappos that the opportunities are endless. It just depends on… what are you willing to do to get there?
I always connected with… and I was always really passionate about the coaching program. When the opportunity came up… someone said, ‘Hey have you thought about applying for the coaching role?’ At first, I was like, ‘Well no, not really, but that’s something exciting that I would love to do.’ So, I was selected and I’m just truly humbled and honored to be in this role and to do this work.”
However, even in a culture supportive of employees expanding their autonomy and responsibilities, taking on the coaching role was still an intimidating proposition for Augusta.
When she initially began coaching her fellow employees, she felt a bit overwhelmed, thinking, “Be careful what you ask for you just may get it, you know? Because, for a minute there, John, I was like, okay, now what? In my wildest dreams, when I started with the company, I never dreamed that I would be in this role, being able to do this work. It’s so amazing.”
Sitting On The Throne
Zappos is a flat organization in which the senior executives sit in cubicles, among the other employees. However, given the confidential nature of her position, Augusta does most of her work in a comfortable office, which is part of the Zappos’ tour.
In fact, so many tourists surreptitiously entered Augusta’s office, to get their picture on the throne, the company wisely placed a replica in the lobby to facilitate photo ops and to minimize disruptions to the coaching process.
I joked that the throne was an appropriate vantage point for Augusta to hand down her wisdom. However, she quickly set me straight and clarified that the thrown is for employees. “We believe that everyone here at Zappos is royalty. So in order to make sure our employees feel… (royal), we have this throne that they can sit on. We believe… we’re all royalty, we’re all special, we’re all VIP(s).”
A large part of the coaching program’s success depends on the employees feeling empowered to change their world. What’s more empowering than sitting on a throne? There are even crowns and scepters available for those who crave a bit more drama (see core value # 3).
Even though employees are treated like royalty, the process does not work without them owning their goals. Augusta notes that the employees, “…have responsibility. I’m not here to tell them what to do. I’m really here to take that journey with them, ask those powerful questions and (help them realize that) they already have the answers. It’s a matter of tapping into themselves and finding out what obstacles are in the way and how can we remove those obstacles, instead of going around the obstacles or pushing the obstacles to the side.”
Getting rid of the obstructions we put in front of our path to success often involves identifying and conquering self-defeating behavior. As Augusta sees it, “It’s that little voice in our head, that tell us, ‘Go ahead, you can study tomorrow. Why don’t you just lay on the couch?’ So I want to discover what’s in the way. How do you deal with your own saboteur? Identify that, and then come up with something you can use against that saboteur and control… that little voice in your head, instead of the saboteur controlling you.”
While CEOs and other executives routinely have accessed to personal coaches, such coaching remains a rarity for the average worker in Corporate America. When such programs do exist, they often focus on making workers more productive, efficient and skilled in their job performance. These programs often indirectly benefit the workers, but their primary goal is the betterment of the company.
Zappos is renowned for its focus on its customers and employees. The company realizes that fostering personal growth is not only good for each employee, it benefits the entire company. As such, employees are encouraged to pursue goals, irrespective of whether they will have any impact on their ability to excel at their jobs.
For instance, Zappos team members can work with Augusta to lose weight, stop smoking or even get into college.
At Zappos, the Coach’s primary responsibility is to make employees better people, not necessarily better workers. Augusta is rightfully proud of this emphasis, stressing that, “The program wasn’t designed around (job) performance or metrics. It was designed around our culture. How can we assist our employees with whatever it is they want to do. What’s going to make them happy? What are they passionate about? And a lot of times it is within their personal lives. We know that a happy employee in their personal life obviously is going to be a happy employee, even at work.”
To further emphasize this point, Augusta described an employee who wanted to gain entrance into medical school and used Zappos on-site goal program to instill the discipline necessary to study for the MCAT exams. In particular, “One of our team members… (had) this dream of becoming a doctor, ever since she was a little girl. She came through this program to get help, trying to figure out what was in her way. She retook her MCATs after the 30 days… (and) she scored high enough… (to gain acceptance at), a particular medical college she wanted to get into. She is now on her way to becoming a doctor. (The program) had a huge impact on her life. Even though it took her away from Zappos, we want people to do what they’re passionate about.”
Augusta’s Suggested Reading
I asked Augusta if she could recommend books for those of us who do not have the luxury of a personal coach. She identified the following two books for employees seeking change and for managers who want to facilitate a healthy culture which encourages employees to follow their dreams.
“Get Off Your But by Sean Stephenson. It’s not the butt we sit on, it’s all the buts we say. What gets in your way? I would go to the gym, but…”
Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly. It’s an amazing book about how do you find out what’s important to your employees. What makes them happy. You’d be surprised. Most companies think that if they ask their employees the number one thing would be money, (but), that’s not true, that’s not the number one thing.”
Given the success of Zappos’ goals coaching program, it is frankly surprising that more companies do not pursue a similar model. According to Tony Hsieh, Zappos’ CEO, “We have definitely seen a positive ROI on this (coaching) and it’s a department we looking to grow. We strongly recommend other companies consider having their own life coaches, as well.” Clearly such programs are not suited for all organizations. However, every company should foster a culture which encourages personal growth and risk taking in order to unlock the talents of superstars like Augusta Scott.
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