A Culture of Fear or A Culture of Love?

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Source: DesktopNexus Abstract

Lately I have been thinking a lot about culture. Merriam-Webster defines culture as “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.”  Culture, undoubtedly, has a significant effect on an organization’s success or failure.

One of my favorite books is The Mastery of Love by Don Miguel Ruiz. Although it is written as “a practical guide to the art of relationship,” Ruiz’s philosophy can just as easily be applied to culture. Ruiz (and many others) speculate that everything in life can be viewed in terms of love and fear.

I am willing to bet that organizations with strong cultures tend to lead out of love. Think about your own organization. Are you surrounded by people who act out of love, love for the members they serve and love for the credit union movement?

People who act out of love are passionate about the work they do and the difference they make in the lives of others.  Conversely, people who act out of fear are apprehensive, anxious and terrified of making mistakes or of losing their jobs. People who act out of fear tend to take things personally, and may have a difficult time making the connection between the part they play and the bigger picture.

One company that seems to lead purely out of love is Zappos.com. Founded in 1999 with almost no sales, in 2008 they surpassed $1 billion in sales. Not only is Zappos a successful business, it is consistently rated on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work ForWhen asked what the company’s biggest asset is, CEO Tony Hsieh’s answer is always the same: the culture.

Zappos culture is based on 10 Core Values:

  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

These core values play an integral role in how Zappos hires, trains and develops their employees. And these values aren’t just lip service. The Zappos 2009 Culture Book is filled almost entirely with emails from actual employees on what Zappos culture means to them. The comments were solicited from Hsieh, himself, who asked:

  • What does the Zappos culture mean to you?
  • What’s different about it compared to other company cultures?
  • What do you like about our culture?

Many leaders are afraid to ask their employees questions like this because they are terrified of the answers they will receive. Hsieh asked these questions out of love. He has faith that, “If we do the right thing, then in the long run we will succeed and build something great.” 

What about you? What does your credit union’s culture mean to you? What do you like (or dislike) about your culture? Does your organization act out of fear or out of love?

Source: NorthernSun

16 Responses to “A Culture of Fear or A Culture of Love?”

  1. Fabulous post Ms. Courtney. Marketing and HR are now realizing they need to break down the silo’s between their departments and work together to elevate the credit union brand — because it really is all about staff building relationships with members, THIS ARTICLE needs to be passed on, discussed and so many of its points lived out at every level. Your brand IS your culture gang. I try to remind credit unions everywhere I go that “Members may not remember what you said, did or look like, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel.” Hire the people that will help live that out at your credit union.

  2. Thanks Randy! I am so glad you included the quote in your comment. On the front page of the Zappos Culture Book, Tony Hsieh, says “People may not remember exactly what you did or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.” That was one part that got left out of my post…but I couldn’t agree more.

  3. I love this post Court! As a friend and your CUNA neighbor I can say that you are one of the people that act out of love. Getting to work so closely with somebody who is so passionate about our members and this movement really does help improve culture and inspire others to work even harder. I’m a huge fan of the good people at Zappos (as well as their fabulous shoe selection of course), great job highlighting the things that have made their culture so amazing. @Randy – great to see you on CUNAverse!!

  4. Awesome post. Have been sharing the love of Zappos and other companies like Tom’s, Starbucks, Google, etc. who are doing things differently and succeeding. Credit unions can take a page or pages out of their play books and implement them into their own culture.

    I did an interview after a session expanding on these thoughts and how credit unions can destroy the boxes that trap them: http://www.cugrow.com/2010/06/mscua-annual-meeting—james-robert-lay-interview.html

    For us… we believe in a culture of love… and Happy Hour Fridays. Love what you do. Do what you love. Have fun and share you passion.

  5. Awesome post Courtney and I could go on and on about Zappos. This summer, I toured their offices and read the new book “Delivering Happiness” – highly recommend both if you can to all readers.

    I also got around to reading “Good to Great” by Jim Collins who mentions how important culture is in taking your organization from good to great. For those who have read the book or who haven’t, here are some good additional articles on culture by Collins:

    I’ll also add that the biggest takeaway from my Zappos visit was just how much everyone seemed like they were happy and having fun at their jobs. That’s definitely a culture of love.

  6. Thanks for all the comments everyone! Yes, I will admit that part of my love for Zappos is due to being a customer. They have WOWed me since day one. After hearing about Christopher’s tour of Zappos and talking more about the Delivering Happiness book with him and Meghann, I became even more enamored. I have my own tour scheduled at the end of the month. Can’t wait!
    @James Robert- thanks for sharing examples of other companies (outside the credit union industry) who are doing doing things differently and succeeding. Google always comes to mind. Apple does too. What other companies can we learn from?
    The beauty of the credit union movement is the “mushy/heart” stuff. We make people’s lives better. We help them make their dreams come true. I don’t know if we recognize that enough…
    Keep up the AMAZING work folks!!!

  7. @James Robert – it’s evident that CU Grow believes in a culture of love and happy hour fridays, you guys rock! Every time I’ve worked with people on your team they seem to be having fun and that translates into really doing an awesome job as well.

  8. I have to say that CUNAverse is coming along nicely, and this is another great example post of the labor of love you guys are putting into it.

    For me, personally, as I get to work with MANY credit unions, the ones that really take the time to educate members, even though their ROI may not be great on the endeavor, those are the ones that get me. Someone in that culture has committed to truly trying to break the cycle of the working poor in those institutions.

    Great article!

  9. @Mark – thanks for the compliment! And what you describe is an important part of the credit union difference.

  10. Nice article. I have worked for organizations with a great culture and also have worked for organizations with a bad culture. The biggest difference is that people understand and appreciate their roles in the bigger picture. The worst the culture, the less work people will do.

  11. Theresa

    @Courtney – love this posting! Happy employees lead to happy members (and obviously growth); sadly I think there are many execs who are frightened that happiness and a little bit of fun hurts efficiency, which can’t be further from the truth. To echo @Christopher’s comments…I’m still in awe over just how excited Zappos employees were to be at work when touring there in July.

  12. John P

    This Zappos thing is a freakin’ cult. Let’s get real about life, folks, about what is true happiness. It ain’t going out drinking with your work buddies every night when you’re 25. See how you feel about that when you’re 55. And this is our future? Smiling idiots selling over-priced shoes over the phone, let by a idiotic egomaniac? God help us!

  13. Interesting point, John. I think Zappos has a great work-culture (coming from a 27 year old who enjoys having a happy hour drink with my co-workers). I would love to see a group of employees get along as well as they seem to, seemingly from their ‘culture of love’ versus a ‘culture of fear’. I think that Courtney’s was using the example of Zappos to show that the culture at one’s workplace does contribute to one’s happiness factor. As we spend more waking hours at a full-time job than we do most anywhere else, it makes sense that our daily interactions and relationships impact our level of overall happiness and satisfaction. Or perhaps I just had too much of Zappos’ feel-good, culture of love, Kool-aid :)

  14. Courtney Cantwell

    If Zappos is a cult, it seems to be catching on and even expanding. Today’s Fast Company features an article on CEO Tony Hsieh’s plans to “advise businesses on value-based management, design a line of motivational apparel, and expand the loyal community that formed around the book.”

    Check out the article here: http://www.fastcompany.com/1738432/delivering-happiness-tony-hsieh-jenn-lim-zappos-ceo

    As someone who has not only done the Zappos tour, but read Hsieh’s book, I am in agreement with him that we spend too much time at work not to be happy doing what we are doing. Life is way too short. I don’t think it really matters what age you are (I am far older than 25). I think the real truth in Zappos message is that if you believe in your company’s culture, you will be happier at work, and therefore better able to serve your members.


  1. Promote Orbiting of the CU Hairball @ CUNAverse
  2. Delivering Happiness to Our Members @ CUNAverse

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