1: “We can hire nice people and teach them to sell, but we can’t hire salespeople and teach them to be nice. We believe in ‘hire the smile, train the skill,'” says Bruce Nordstrom, who led Nordstrom for 40 years, growing the company from seven shoe stories and under $40 million in revenue to 156 stores in 27 states and $8.6 billion in revenue.
How has Nordstrom maintained its world-renowned workplace culture, which puts the customer at the center of every decision while continuing to grow and add stores around the world?
“We believe ‘The Nordstrom Way’ can be summed up in three sentences,” write Robert Spector and breAnne Reeves in The Nordstrom Way:
A: Stay true to the values of the culture.
B: Attract people who share the values of the culture
C: Teach and coach based on those values.
“People always ask me, how do you teach core values? The answer is, you don’t,” states Jim Collins, co-author of Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, which profiles Nordstrom. “The goal is not to get people to share your core values. It’s to get people who already share your core values.”
2: Values are simply how we treat our clients and each other. They are “the standards of behavior, the non-negotiable beliefs that are most important in [our] life,” write Robert and breAnne. “If ‘vision’ is the head, and ‘mission’ is the heart, then ‘values’ are the soul of [our] culture.”
The Nordstrom Way begins with hiring the right people. “The only way an organization can create a lasting customer service culture is by hiring people who buy into the core values,” observe Robert and breAnne.
Practices are “ways of doing things… that express our values,” says Bruce’s son Pete, who currently serves as Norstrom co-President with his brother Erik. “Practices may serve us well for long periods of time—but they are not values and, therefore, can be changed without changing our culture.”
3: Nordstrom seeks to hire associates who are both “nice and motivated,” write Robert and BreAnne. “Have you ever tried to take someone who is not nice and motivated and magically make them nice and motivated? It can’t be done. And yet, so many organizations believe that—with initiatives or training or slogans or catchphrases—they can change a person’s inherent nature. It can’t be done. People are who they are. They are not going to change. Don’t waste time and money trying to change them.”
Another vital attribute Nordstrom looks for in new hires is initiative and a desire to win. “Healthy competition is good; we love to win,” Nordstrom tells new hires in its company literature. “If you thrive in a high‐energy, competitive, team environment, you’ll love it here.”
Reflection: Do we seek to hire people who share our organization’s values or train them to do so at my organization?
Action: Discuss with a colleague.