Nordstrom's Old Employee Handbook Had Only 75 Words

For many years, Nordstrom’s employee handbook consisted of a single 5″×8″ card that had only 75 words on it:

Welcome to Nordstrom

We’re glad to have you with our Company. Our number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service. Set both your personal and professional goals high. We have great confidence in your ability to achieve them.

Nordstrom Rules: Rule #1: Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.

Please feel free to ask your department manager, store manager, or division general manager any question at any time.

I love it. Stunningly beautiful in its simplicity and efficacy.

Think of how this flies in the face of the laminated binder, micro-managed flowchart management style that’s so popular these days. Instead of sniveling drones more worried about protecting their ass than serving the customers’ and the business’s best interest, and worried that any question will be seen as a sign of weakness or insubordination or will lose them “points,” you encourage the development of self-confident, self-empowered employees with the flexibility to pull out the best solution adapted for the situation. “We trust that you can make good decisions, so make good ones. And if you have a question, ask it.” Of course, with this approach managers have to be willing to answer those questions.

And, perhaps in a sign of the times, Nordstrom’s supposedly now also hands out a much more detailed handbook with specific regulations and legal strictures.

The Nordstrom Way [Google Books]
[via 37 Signals]

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  1. Bativac says:

    At the call center I work in, we have longer procedural guides for requesting time away from our desks to go to the bathroom.

    • caradrake says:

      What is the procedure for bathroom breaks? What happens when that procedure is not followed?

      • Marlin says:

        Shit hits the fan

      • Miss Dev (The Beer Sherpa) says:

        I saw an employee fired at one call center I worked at because she took more than two bathroom breaks a day.

        • RayanneGraff says:

          Shit like this is why I would literally have to be threatened with homelessness before I’d work in a call center. And even then, I do believe I’d check myself back into the mental hospital before I’d work in a call center. I’d have more freedom that way, lol…

        • jefeloco says:

          During my time with T-Mo I got a doctor’s note excusing me “as needed” for rest and bathroom breaks. I would use it to go the bathroom when I felt like it rather than when I was scheduled. I never need more than 5-6 minutes a day and would inevitably work at least that much overtime a day so I never say my pay suffer.

          I have a kick ass doctor who doesn’t think employers should treat employees like kenneled dogs so I guess I was lucky. My new job is a proper one though, so I can take breaks for whatever I need them for civilly.

      • Bativac says:

        You might be joking but the consequences include: “coaching” session with management; “action plan” detailing steps that will be taken to correct the negative behavior; and “poopy pants.”

        • caradrake says:

          I wasn’t joking, I’ve never worked in a call center but have heard they are veeery strict about everything. Thanks for enlightening me.

          • Bativac says:

            The procedure is:

            1) Wait unti your scheduled break. If you do not have a scheduled break, notify the scheduling dept.
            2) Check with your supervisor or the planning dept to verify there is availability to leave your desk.
            3) If there isn’t sufficient availability, please hold it until your next break. If it is an emergency, notify management and ensure your phone is in the proper call state.

            Just think. There was a time when we, as grown men and women, had the power to just get up and go to the bathroom. I guess we can’t have all 300 of us in the bathroom at the same time, right?

            • tooluser says:

              That time was a long, long time ago. Henry Ford had the “no breaks, I own you” mentality of the modern corporation in the 1920s. Dickens wrote about it in the 1800s.

              Same reason grown adults put up with being groped by the TSA — fear.

    • doughrama says:

      No joke. One of my first jobs after high school was doing tech support in a call center. They tracked and monitored everything. I remember the defining moment where I decided to get a new job.

      I went to my 30 minute lunch break, when it was over I logged into my phone and proceeded to work. While I was on my first call (which was immediate upon logging into the phone) I had a manager standing over my shoulder. When my call ended he asked me why I was 32 seconds late returning from lunch.

      • Beeker26 says:

        For me it was when my boss bitched me out for being 45 minutes late back from work (I got stuck on the subway and could prove it). I reminded him that I routinely stayed an extra 2-3 hours nearly every night after everyone else went home (with no extra pay, mind you, as I was salaried). His response? “Oh, that’s unsupervised time, so that doesn’t count”.

        Needless to say I went home that night right at 5 and started looking for a new job.

        • freelunch says:

          wow…. unsupervised is a term I only hear used for hourly workers… I don’t think I have ever heard someone make a comment about long lunches to a salaried employee…

      • MrEvil says:

        You, my friend have an extraordinary amount of self control. Were I being berated by my boss for being 32 seconds late back from lunch I would have slammed by boss’s head in the nearest file cabinet drawer a couple times and just gone home.

        I have very little patience for people that harp about the most insignificant shit in the universe. If I was that anal-retentive about checking my employees clocking back in by the second I’d have more mental health issues than I currently do.

        Makes me glad my direct boss is in San Jose and I’m in Texas; gives us both ample room to slack off :p.

    • tinmanx says:

      When I worked at a call center we just put the customer on hold. Good times.

      • edosan says:

        “When I worked at a call center we just put the customer on hold”

        Yup. “I need to put you on hold for a moment while I check something.”

      • Big Mama Pain says:

        One that I worked in had two settings to make your headset stop taking calls-you clocked out on the computer, or you could float on the previous caller’s line- something we were only allowed to do if you had to clear your throat or take a sip of water. We abused the hell out of it because our breaks were so short. It was funny to listen to the person pick up their phone to call someone, which they obviously can’t because we haven’t disconnected.

    • babyruthless says:

      In high school I worked at Six Flags on a rollercoaster. One day we were running on a “skeleton crew”–the smallest crew that allowed us to operate the ride. The coaster operator called the operations department at the park to ask for a replacement so he could go potty. Operations said they were coming. He waited 20 minutes, and called back. They said they were sending someone. He waited another 20 minutes, and called back again. At that point they still hadn’t sent anyone to relieve (heh heh) him, so he told them he was taking our coaster “Code 2″ [closed] for a bathroom break and hung up.

      He went to the closest bathroom and when he came back, there was someone waiting for him. He was fired for shutting down the ride.

      And in a move that was one of the first times that Six Flags wasn’t a total dick, a higher-up boss heard about it, and un-fired him. He had asked, twice, for a person to come take his place for 10 minutes so he could go to the bathroom, which is by all accounts a basic human need, and had been denied.

      • colorisnteverything says:

        Wow. That is rediculous. Much like a friend of mine needing to go to the bathroom to attend some personal female business. Her idiot manager (female mind you) denied her and told her she needed to stay up front. It didn’t end well. She had to stand up there for a good hour before it was fixed so she could attend to herself. Which at this point, there was no hope. She quit, went home, and called OSHA and the health department.

  2. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    This was the world before excessive litigation. Elegant. Beautiful. Simple.

    • TuxthePenguin says:

      We have a winner!

      • Southern says:

        Yep, +1. Kill all the lawyers.

        • Shadowfax says:

          Bullshit. Kill all the dumbasses that employ their services.

          Lawyers are there to help clients work within the arcane legal system. Nothing more. Nothing less. A lawyer is ethically supposed to help the client through the system as long as the system provides a path.

          The system has provided a path for this excessive litigation, and greedy clients are more than willing to hire lawyers to guide them along it.

          Killing all the lawyers to eliminate the greedy clients who hire them would be like killing all the police officers to eliminate crime.

          And no, I’m not a lawyer, but I’m awfully tired of the sheep-like bandwagon bleating about the “evil tricky scum attorneys” that people love to indulge in until they need a lawyer.

          • IThinkThereforeIAm says:

            I see how you managed to sneak the word “ethical” in a sentence that also has the word “lawyer” in it.

            DISCLAIMER: Yes, I am working with stereotypes here. And while you are right in theory, anecdotal evidence seems to put the frequency of the “ethical lawyer” an par wit BigFoot and his ilk.

          • Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ã‚œ-゜ノ) says:

            Lawyers are licensed. Engineers are licensed. Engineers are not permitted to willfully endanger life and property, even when asked to since it risks their license. Why are Lawyer farms that encourage frivolous lawsuits allowed to even function?

            At least Florida stripped Jack Thompson of his ability to “practice” law, and I think Fancy Pants lost his license, too. Two down, so many more to go.

            • Daemon Xar says:

              Because thirty years ago it was considered frivolous for an individual to sue a company for dumping toxic waste in the wilderness, or toxins in public water supplies? Because it was frivolous to sue a school board or a state Board of Education for putting caucasian and African-american children in seperate schools? Because it was frivolous to sue a company who’s CEO was sexually harassing or inappropriately touching the staff? Because it’s frivolous to challenge the constitutionality of a law that forbids gay marriage, or same-gender sex, or forbids homosexuals in the military? Because it’s frivolous to contest the government removing an endangered species from the endangered species list because a population in a single state has reached 10% of historical norms, regardless of the fact that the population in question ranges over four or five states?

              Those reasons good enough for you? Because I have more.

              There are ethically-challenged law firms out there, but there are also a number of firms on the cutting edge of defending our rights and protecting people. You can’t very easily forbid the former without impacting the latter, and there are already plenty of protections in the system to get attorneys who file truly frivolous lawsuits (i.e. google Rule 11 sanctions).

        • mythago says:

          But then you will you go whining to for free legal advice?

    • ParingKnife ("That's a kniwfe.") says:

      Really? There was a time before “excessive” litigation in this country? Citation needed.

      Read up on our colonial puritan forbears. They sued each other over everything, things you couldn’t sue over today. The point of lawsuits was to eliminate violence in the community. What do you think we had before we had lawsuits?

    • mythago says:

      How old are you, that you think lawsuits were invented yesterday?

  3. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    They could’ve made it shorter:

    Be a fucking human.

  4. dancemonkey says:

    The businesses with better customer service always leave more power in the hands of their employees.

    I worked at a Marriott hotel for two years and a Four Seasons for three. At the Marriott they basically scripted your customer interactions, at Four Seasons they did nothing but tell you to make the guest happy.

    I didn’t even technically work for Four Seasons, just at the location, and I was given carte blanche to comp almost anything I wanted I order to please a guest.

    • Gail says:

      At my job, I’m allowed to do pretty much anything I want to make my users happy. It really is empowering, and does make you feel much more invested in the company. So, I don’t give away the store. Right now, we have an issue where customers are still using ancient versions of our software. But, the licensing is breaking as OSes upgrade.

      So, I’ve been upgrading them to a little less ancient, but still works, version for free. It makes them easier to support (I don’t even have some of the versions they are using), and it makes them very very happy. A lot of them end up buying our newest version.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      I’m guessing this is because the Marriott probably had more business customers, and the Four Seasons’ clientele is mostly people who can a) afford to stay at the Four Seasons and b) are in town for a vacation.

    • Oranges w/ Cheese says:

      Yeah, this is what’s wrong with AT&T’s customer service. I was always looking out for the customer, but sometimes there was literally nothing I could do because I’d lose my job if I did it. At the least, you don’t follow script – even if you know the info by heart – you get points off and they add up to an eventual firing. Bleh.

      • Bativac says:

        That’s life in the call center.

        “You didn’t use the approved greeting to answer the phone.”
        “But I said hello, my name, the name of the company, and asked how I could help them.”
        “Yeah but you didn’t use the APPROVED greeting. People well above our pay grade vetted that greeting. The Greeting Committee solicited for greeting suggestions, didn’t you get the email?”
        “Look, if you’re not gonna fire me, will you at least take me out back and shoot me?”
        “…Did you just joke about gun violence? I need to contact HR.”

  5. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    Nordstrom’s is awesome. I once bought a coat and didn’t get to wearing it until months later because it wasn’t cold enough. I put the coat on, put my hands in the pockets, and realized one of the pockets had a big hole in it. I took it back (I didn’t have a receipt) and the store wasn’t selling the same coat anymore, but the cashier found my purchase information and refunded the entire price, no questions asked. Awesome!

  6. wojonet says:

    My wife worked at Nordstrom for 7 years selling men’s shoes. She didn’t hate it but it wasn’t the best job ever either. There was a fair amount of backstabbing and just general bad management.

    For instance, if a manager saw that she was working with someone who was going to spend a lot of money, he’d send her to go do something else while he took care of that customer. Crap like that finally made her leave.

    • Arcaeris says:

      Yeah, that’s garbage. The shoe people work on commission, right? They always seem to get into drama if you forget which person was helping you or you come back later after putting stuff on hold and get “poached” by another associate.

      • freelunch says:

        yes – most shoe departments work on commission.

        If you find someone particularly helpful in a shoe store/dept, and they get pulled aside by someone else (customer/employee) be sure you tell the person working the register that somone helped you. If you don’t, it is not uncommon for the person at the register to indicate that their friend (or even they themselves) helped you.

      • RayanneGraff says:

        That kind of shit happens anywhere where the associates work for commissions though. Years ago I worked with this douche at Radio Shack that would poach my cell phone customers all the time. Someone would come in & glance at the phones, and this ass-canoe would practically elbow me out of the way to make sure I didn’t get “his” sale. I was barely making peanuts to begin with but this was the last straw.

    • Awesome McAwesomeness says:

      I am glad you said this. If this ever happens to me again (It has before), I am going to tell the poacher that I want to work with the person originally helping me. If they won’t let me, I’ll leave. I had no idea they did this to each other.

    • TimeLord says:

      I worked in men’s shoes at Nordstrom and had a similar experience. I think this is typical of any commission based sales environment.

  7. fundelman says:

    And then someone got sexually harassed and they realized how stupid they had been for so many years.

  8. craptastico says:

    things sure were great back when you could reasonably assume your employees/customers had good judgement.

    • humphrmi says:

      They didn’t have to assume anything. They simply hired people with good judgment; that was what interviews helped determine.

      • Shadowfax says:

        And they were able to do that because they paid their employees a living wage. Now that they don’t do that any more, they have to settle for whatever they get, which oftentimes is not the people with good judgment, because if they had good judgment, they wouldn’t want to work for a place that pays crap wages.

        • JiminyChristmas says:

          Excellent comment. In years past, working front-line customer service in retail sales could actually be a decent job and as a result you got people who stuck with it.

          If one works with professional sales reps as part of your job you can really see the difference. These are people who are very knowledgeable about what they are selling. Retail stores used to be a lot more like that. These days, service consists of maybe helping you find something and then taking your money when you’re ready to buy.

          • ElizabethD says:

            My great-grandfather, a dignified, highly intelligent man, spent most of his career as a “floor walker” as they were then called for a large department store in St. Louis. This was not considered an entry-level, low-paid, grunt job at all; it came with a certain amount of prestige, and also a salary that allowed his family of five to live comfortably on his income. I remember my grandmother always being very proud when she would tell me about her dad’s job in the store, where helpful, respectful interactions with customers were the backbone of the business.

          • tooluser says:

            That’s because the definition of “professional” has changed greatly over time. Today, “professional” carries absolutely no connotation of honesty or integrity, just an assumption that you will work long unpaid hours and try to fit in with the corporate culture.

            “Professional sales rep”, that’s rich.

      • Doubts42 says:

        You mean when we were allowed to hire the best candidate for the job and not just fill quotas?

        • Daemon Xar says:

          Keep on trollin’

        • ARP says:

          No, that was before the bottom line and hard costs were everything and people realized that a few well paid, empowered, competent people could make a company money by providing great service. Of course that means that the executives would have to make slightly less money and they couldn’t exhibit double digit growth, since there’s only so much premium you can charge for service. Well having a CEO that makes only 200X the lowest paid employee just isn’t fair, so we have this model.

          PS- Nordstrom has no affirmative action program, they’re not a governmental entity and probably don’t have government contracts, so try again.

  9. energynotsaved says:

    And compare this to the ratings just released on the 5 worst airlines in customer satisfaction… Why are they awful? Because they don’t encourage their employees to “Use best judgment in all situations.”

  10. kingofmars says:

    Protip: do everything exactly like a pro would.

  11. jdmba says:

    So I take it there is no vacation policy, no sick leave, no FMLA leave, no bereavement policy, not severance, no requirement for written warnings before being fired, and most stunning of all, no sexual harassment policy (this opening the employer up to expanded liability).

    Cool!

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      I don’t think that there was never a real handbook to govern administrative and legal issues, just that the only rule that guides Nordstrom’s attitude is “Use best judgment in all situations.”

    • nbs2 says:

      Vacation policy – Employee: If you want/need a vacation, it would be wise to let your manager that you will need to be out; Manager: If the employee wants to go on vacation, and you can afford to have them out at that time, there isn’t really a problem

      Sick leave – Employee: If you are too sick to come to work, stay home and let us know; Manager: Make sure you are minimally overstaffed to compensate if an employee is too sick to work (but not have too many people on the floor)

      FMLA – Employee: Information is available on the DoL required information board; Manager: Remember your FMLA training or contact HR

      Bereavement – EE: If someone dies, let us know and take needed time; Manager: If EE loses someone, be a human

      Severance – Employee: Severance may be available; Manager: Let HR handle severance issues.

      Firing – EE: Abuse of company resources will result in losing your job (including sick and vacation); Manager: Does it make sense to fire someone who isn’t using poor judgment? If asked about it, wouldn’t it make sense to have a written record of the problem? It is generally cheaper to improve an EE than hire a new one, provide guidance.

      Sexual harassment – EE: If someone is bothering you, tell your boss and/or HR; Manager: Don’t be stupid

      All of these are covered by Rule #1. Just because it isn’t in the handbook doesn’t mean that there wouldn’t be training. The more you micromanage, the harder it gets to cover all potential situations. Something this broad would cover almost any conceivable situation.

      • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

        The worst jobs that I’ve ever had were the ones that had very few written policies and we were simply told to “discuss with HR” about any given policy. It was amazing how inconsistently rules were enforced when there was no handbook backing them up.

      • Fubish says: I don't know anything about it, but it seems to me... says:

        Well said.

  12. dr_drift says:

    inb4 “Rule #1: You do not talk about Nordstrom.”

  13. Hotscot says:

    I was throwing out an old broken rake the other day. Had it for over twenty years…then I noticed it said lifetime guarantee on the handle.

    Called the company and without hesitation they shipped a new one.

    Thank You Jackson!

  14. A.Mercer says:

    I guess they replaced it with rules about fightclub now.

  15. Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

    This sounds like a corporate mission than a handbook.

    I’d assume there’s another book somewhere that discusses sick time & vacation accrual, temporary vs. permanent status, eligibility, etc.

  16. UnicornMaster says:

    sounds like good advice for life.

  17. ARP says:

    Well, when you pay people as little as possible and don’t treat them with respect, you get less qualified people who lack good judgement. To compensate for that you have to build an elaborate structure of rules and policies to make up for the fact that you hired the bottom of the barrel. In the long run it probably costs more than just conducting extensive interviews and paying well. It also probably costs more in terms of customer service and satisfaction. However, those costs are either spread out or they’re “soft” costs. But soft costs don’t matter when it comes to salaries and bonuses for senior management.

  18. duxup says:

    If you are capable of following Rule #1 then you don’t need the book.

  19. BigHeadEd says:

    In my experience, the more specific and detailed you are in setting rules, limits and procedures, the more likely you are to get people to do exactly that…..and nothing more.

  20. ElizabethD says:

    Nordstrom still beats any other store that I frequent when it comes to friendly, helpful staff on the floor and behind the cash register; and just the right amount of help in the dressing room — quick to help if needed, but never overbearing or too nosy.

    It’s not necessarily where I go to get a bargain, but I definitely head there if I need a very specific, good-quality item — a basic black office/meeting suit, classic shoes in my hard-to-fit size, a knockout dressy top to wear to a party with a skirt. And yes, they bend over backward to accommodate you if something isn’t up to standards.

    • hotcocoa says:

      As someone who worked there for several years in various departments and later for a company in China that supplied them merchandise, I can assure you that you are mostly paying for their name and not for “quality” items. Their shit is nice, but over-priced.
      Great return policy, though. Can’t knock that.

      • ElizabethD says:

        Usually the “name” that I buy at Nordstrom is not one of their own brands, but a national brand that I like. Particularly true with shoes; my feet are hard to fit, and I head for the brands that I know from experience work well for me. So I’m not sure how this applies, unless you mean that all branded goods are crap, whether they bear a Nordstrom house label or Ralph Lauren’s.

  21. Dieflatermous says:

    This is also why they’re held as the gold standard of customer service, even today.

  22. diesel54 says:

    I heard a story about how a guy walked into Nordstom’s wanting to return a set of tires. The building used to be leased by a tire retail store. Nordstrom’s gave him his money back because their return policy was to take anything back that they sell, and this situation was close enough. I don’t know if it’s true but it’s a cool story.

    • Nekoincardine says:

      That was actually the Anchorage, Alaska location, right across the street of where I used to work. Indeed, it’s true.

      Another interesting story: The Anchorage School District actually field tripped students to Nordstrom’s while the escalator was being installed there – because it was the first escalator being retrofitted into a building (rather than being built there in the first place – that goes to the JCPenney’s across the street) in state history. Not joking.

  23. AngryK9 says:

    The company handbook for the company I work for is almost 100 pages thick.

  24. BBG says:

    I remember on time I was in a Nordstom’s looking at shirts or something. I was just killing some time while my wife was somewhere else in the mall. One of the employees working in menswear walked up to me, introduces himself, and shook my hand. Freaked me the hell out…

  25. redwall_hp says:

    Nordstrom, L. L. Bean and Apple are all very similar in attitude: PR is more important than saving a few dollars. It’s something that more companies should try…

  26. ccuttriss says:

    I was expecting “use best judgement*” with a 50-page addendum outline exactly what judgment involves.

  27. Kibit says:

    I worked for Nordstrom seven years ago and their employee handbook still said the same thing. I hope it hasn’t changed much.

  28. Extended-Warranty says:

    So what’s the moral of this story? 99% of consumers want a retail model that is the complete opposite of Nordstrom’s. No one cares about the good that a little markup brings. Most people want to find the bare minimum cost, no matter what.

    I welcome a retail that once again brings good jobs and reasonable policies. I cannot wait until the government forces sales tax on internet sales.

  29. Awesome McAwesomeness says:

    Nordstrom’s has the best customer service in the universe. I go there often just because they treat me well. I’d rather spend a bit more and give my money to a company that still knows who butters their bread.

  30. islandgirl says:

    I will shop at Nordstroms again and again, and I’ll tell you why. A year before my wedding, I bought my wedding gown from Nordstroms. Fast forward to 2 months before the wedding, I changed my mind and hated the dress. It was still wrapped up, with all of the tags, never worn except to try on, and it had been 8 months since purchase. AND NORDSTROM TOOK IT BACK. Since then, I buy almost all my clothes there because I know they’ll take care of me.

  31. TimeLord says:

    I worked at Nordstrom 5 or 6 years ago, while it wasn’t exactly retail utopia, it was the best store I worked at as far as giving employees the freedom to make decisions and perform functions with the cash register without manager approval. This makes the whole process run a lot smother for both customers and staff.

  32. Jeff-er-ee says:

    Been shopping at Nordstrom since it was something like 5 stores in the Seattle area (back when Northgate mall was still relatively new). Will shop there till I die most likely. They’re one of the handful of companies that understand the concept of selling more with less marketing expense if you just keep the customers that you already have. Best customer service anywhere.

  33. BytheSea says:

    So whose common sense will be applied when I, a minority, want a raise, but my white boss thinks only white people deserve them? By what common sense should I escalate?