Companies seeking an "empowered" or decentralized work environment should first and foremost impose a tight ideology, screen and indoctrinate people into that ideology, eject the viruses, and give those who remain the tremendous sense of responsibility that comes with membership in an elite organization.
It means getting the right people on the stage, putting them in the right frame of mind, and then giving them the freedom to ad lib as they see fit.
It is tightness around an ideology that enables a company to turn people loose to experiment, change, adapt, and - above all - to act.
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Nordstrom has a one-page employee handbook - a single 5"x8" card. It says: Nordstrom Rules: Rule #1 : Use you good judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.
While visiting a class at the Stanford Business School, Jim Nordstrom was asked how a Nordstrom clerk would handle a customer attempting to return a dress that had obviously been worn. His reply:
I don't know. That's the honest answer. But I do have a high level of confidence that it would be handled in such a way that the customer would feel well treated and served. Whether that would involve taking the dress back would depend on the specific situation, and we want to give each clerk a lot of latitude in figuring out what to do. We view our people as sales professionals. They don't need rules. They need basic guideposts, but not rules. You can do anything at Nordstrom to get the job done, just so long as you live up to our basic values and standards.