Nordstrom, the US department store, has one of the best employee policy manuals in the world. The entire handbook given out to new employees goes like this:

“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.

Rule #1: Use your best judgement in all situations.

There are no additional rules.

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

You might think it’s impossible for an employee manual to give people so much leeway. After all, there are procedures to follow, policies to uphold, legislation to meet, and rules to enforce. In fact, Nordstrom does have a more detailed employee manual to cover those situations. But the essence of the company culture is in those few paragraphs above.

It takes courage for an organisation to tear down their hierarchy and let employees loose, but Nordstrom isn’t the only organisation that does it:

  • Online shoe store Zappos manages by “Holacracy” , where there are no management titles and the employees drive the company.
  • Southeastern Mills has discarded its policy manual and treats employees like adults.
  • The Morning Star Company organises all its employees in circles, where each circle must gain consensus about goals and operations, and then ask other circles to help them.
  • The creative agency Roundhouse has a few core values to guide it, but no goals, policies, systems or procedures.
  • Southwest Airlines is famous for giving employees more freedom, and it leads to hilarious safety videos that generate more free publicity than most companies pay in advertising .

Are you confident enough in your team members’ judgement that you could trust them as much as those organisations do? If not, you’re not alone. Most leaders and managers – if they were honest – would admit they don’t trust their team members that much.

If you have children, you know this intuitively. Young children don’t know about the dangers of electricity, so you protect power sockets when they start crawling. They don’t understand why it’s rude to interrupt conversations, so you have to teach them. They don’t know how easy it is to drown in a small amount of water, so you build a fence around your swimming pool.

Your team members aren’t children, but some leaders treat them as if they are – and are then surprised when they (metaphorically) stick a knife in an electrical socket or fall into the swimming pool.
 

Instead of operating from a lack of trust, ask yourself: What would you need to do to get to where you could trust them this much?

As their leader, you have the benefit of greater experience, which gives you deeper insight, and that in turn leads to wisdom. Help your team members acquire that same wisdom, and then you’ll be able to trust their judgement.

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