As much as Nordstrom can attribute its success to quality products and good marketing, there is another unique feature that sets the brand apart: their customer service. Historically, Nordstrom was known to have some of the best employees with the friendliest attitudes.
Now, this is a major, international company. How does something that big create such consistently positive customer experiences? The same way any other organization shares its culture: the employee handbook.
So what secrets does this tried-and-true handbook hold? How did Nordstrom defy the odds and create a bulletproof company culture with something that every major company has? Well, I can tell you, because the employee handbook is six words.
“Use good judgement in all situations.”
That’s it. No flair, no pinwheels, just this simple piece of guidance. Obviously a one-sentence handbook wouldn’t work for every company, which means that we need to figure out why it worked for Nordstrom.
In every organization I’ve worked with, there has been one consistent theme: Culture eats strategy for lunch. By that, I mean that it’s not about how great your plans are or how well-thought-out your ideas seem to be, but it’s about what your company culture will allow you to do. You can have a world-class business plan, but if you don’t have the culture to support it, you don’t have anything.
And let me tell you, Nordstrom’s handbook was the perfect basis for a strong culture. The big winner here is that it shows each employee exactly how they contribute to the organization. Even with a grand plan, your line workers need to know how to execute it and why their work matters. But by creating a culture that stressed good judgement and responsibility, Nordstrom had already set up an infrastructure that prepared employees to take on new plans and strategies. This way, they wouldn’t be limited by what their company culture allowed them to do.
Creating great culture takes time and hands-on work from the highest levels of management. The great part is that once you get it started, it will replicate and ultimately position you to have a simple policy like Nordstrom’s. Let it fester, however, and the opposite it true—no handbook in the world will guarantee strategic execution.
My advice isn’t to replace your employee handbook with a Post-it note. Rather, my challenge to you is to show your lowest rung on the corporate ladder exactly how they help achieve the company’s goals. Because if you can do that, then your plans will only be bolstered by your company culture, not limited by it.