ARTICLES/VIDEOS

Nordstrom Culture

Last week, I had dinner with my friend, colleague, and mentor, Keith Blevens. Among the topics we covered was a team I’m working with whose coaches decided to eliminate prescribed goals, codes of conduct, or expectations of any kind. I mentioned that the behavior of the players on the team, both on and off the field, had been effortlessly transformed for the better. Upon hearing this news, Keith smiled and then, seemingly out of nowhere, asked me, “Have you ever shopped at Nordstrom before?”

I responded, “Yep, couple times a year. In fact, it’s the only clothing store I go to. But what’s that got to do with the team I’m talking about?”

“Stay with me and you’ll see. What kind of service do you receive when you go to Nordstrom?”

“Hmm, come to think of it, it’s always courteous and accommodating. Their salespeople really hustle, too.”

“Why do you think that is?”

“No way. You’re kidding. Of course!”

Turns out Nordstrom doesn’t train its employees at all. They don’t preach culture. They don’t preach hard work. They don’t preach expectations. They don’t preach anything but good judgment (and I’m not sure “preach” even fits with the last one). To illustrate, here’s Nordstrom spokesperson Tara Darrow when asked about her company’s lack of focus on culture:

We don’t have a thick manual telling our employees what they can and cannot do . . . we just ask them to use good judgment in all situations. We hope this philosophy not only empowers employees to provide the highest level of service to our customers, but also inspires them and helps build a great workplace.”

How brilliant.

This week’s message is as fundamental as it gets: The more human beings fill their minds with information, strategy, techniques, or how-to’s, the less chance they have of living up to their God-given potential. Adopting someone else’s idea of how to behave, or what action steps are right or wrong, obstructs clarity, passion, realness, and love. Sure, in the arenas of leadership and motivation, culture is the hot new buzzword. But, sadly, many leaders are attempting to instill (in others) their personal opinion of what the culture of his or her organization should be. That’s called programming or indoctrination. It’s outside-in 101 and simply cannot work for the better.

Nordstrom’s story, on the other hand, reveals that a productive culture is an effect—of refusing to demand even the slightest bit of conformity from employees—not a cause. Their leadership grasps that human beings thrive from inside to out, 100 percent of the time.

Do you want to foster the wisdom that rests within your players, clients, students, family members, or friends? Well, if you ask them to believe in, and employ, your own vision of what it takes to excel—you can’t.