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Internal Communities and The Value of Truth, Well Told

Simon Jon Gademan at the Community Leadership Summit #2

Simon Jon Gademan is Team Lead, Engagement and Community Management at zLabels, Zalando’s Private Labels.

In this talk at the Community Leadership Summit #2, Simon shares why community is important for Zalando and how it is measured.ecentralization ecosystem.


I'm from the private label business within Zalando, which is one of the four business units of Zalando. We have 15 of our own brands and this year from our own brands, we plan to sell about 25 million products. This means we will sell 300 products in the time it takes for you to read this post. 

When Severin asked me to speak, he asked me to speak on three things. 

  1. Is community important to Zalando, and, if so, why?
  2. How does the management view community?, and 
  3. What are the KPIs that we use to define or measure our community and how do we work with those?

Ultimately it's the people who make the purpose

The first thing: is community important to Zalando? I would say yes. Otherwise, my role would not exist. The purpose of Zalando is to reimagine fashion for the good of all, I think this is a good thing because the reality is that the fashion industry is a messed up industry. Fashion is the second biggest polluter in the world, and we know that. The whole supply chain is out of balance. Bets are placed months before products are put in store. People in Bangladesh make products very, very cheap and companies buy things knowing that they will likely only sell around 80 percent of them. Whatever you lose in overstock is okay because you make the difference up in profit. That's the industry. That's not Zalando, that's the industry. This needs to change, and we want to be at the forefront of this.

Zalando has three key pillars:

  1. One is the assortment
  2. The second is technology
  3. And the third is the distributional logistics

None one of these things, on their own, is going to reimagine fashion for the good of all. Ultimately it's the people.

Truth well told has the power to shape our community

Zalando is a big business, but the reality is in my unit we're making and selling clothes. Zalando is full of passionate people; creatives; designers. They don't only care about KPIs, they want to make beautiful products. They love the products. What we've realized is that community only works if you have a narrative (you could use story, value, concept, whatever, but I like the word narrative) that really resonates with this group. McCann Erickson said the following ‘Truth well told has the power to move a person, a brand or a market’. To this I would add: truth well told certainly has the power to shape a community. That's really what we focus on. Are we good at it? Maybe, maybe not. I don't know. ...but I would like to think we are. 

Severin also asked how we measure community. In Zalando whatever is not measured, does not exist. And we do have a tool for measuring the buy-in on the narrative. Zalando is a tech company. So I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit that the tool we use is ‘just’ a survey, which is not super sexy, but in reality, it's not what you have, it's how you use it. We have a survey and we use it.  Every quarter we send out the survey. It's exactly the same questions. It focuses on intention to stay. Do people feel valued? Do people feel they make impact? And Do people resonate with the leadership? 

We look at the results over time and what we've found is a very, very simple thing. While Zalando is a complex business, it's fundamentally about people. If you have a story that people believe (and our not a bullshit communication story, it's a real story. We really do fundamentally want to change the industry) and if that story is resonating, it should show in the survey and if it doesn't show in the survey we've got a fundamental problem. If so, then it's either, okay, what can we do to change the way that people perceive our mission, our vision or our narrative, or how do we change off the back of it?

There's a high power in focused incremental

Off the back of the survey, we really focus on incremental change. I think we speak so much about disruption and innovation and really changing things, but the reality is there's high power in focused incremental change. The leadership of the company take it super seriously. They look into the survey results and see where people in certain teams are not feeling valued. And then, we assess what we can do in the short and longer term to change this.

By focusing on truth well told and really measuring it and responding to it, we do find that we can shape the company.  It works because it's consistent. That's one thing that I have realized in my life: if you want incremental change, you have to be consistent. It works because it's focused.  When we want to create change in our internal communities, so often we are afraid that we're doing something that might be wrong. But, by saying, “hey, we've noticed this problem and we're doing x”, you are already making a difference. Maybe X is not the best course of action… but it is something… and hopefully, after some time, all of your X’s will bring you closer to truth, well told.

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