Ironically, both Nordstrom, Inc. – proclaimed as America’s leading fashion specialty retailer – along with companies whose sole purpose is to help small businesses succeed through unique software, share values in management. Both strive to empower employees with support and to manage at the ground level.

At the annual Great Place to Work Conference, held in New Orleans this week, Nordstrom president Blake Nordstrom explained that his Seattle-based company, with over 60,000 employees in 33 states, “is not a fan of mission statements and value statements.”

The first rule in the company’s employee handbook is to “use good judgment, and rule No. 2 is go back to No. 1.”

“It’s so important to have a flat organization, to be on the floor, close to the customer and close to those individuals that are selling,” Nordstrom says, adding that the more-than-113-year-old company does not have a CEO. Nordstrom says that he is only president by default of the law and his older age when compared to his brothers.

Nordstrom, Inc. first started as a shoe store, and has evolved its management structures as much as it has changed its business offering. The traditional organization structure has been “flipped upside down” at the retailer, he says.

“The top is the customer, that’s the most important person in our company,” Nordstrom explains. “…Customers vote with their dollars and that is the ultimate compliment to our efforts.”

He adds that Nordstrom, Inc.’s work culture has developed into one that discards top-down authority that barks out orders to employees.

“If the culture is strong enough, it immediately rejects it,” he explains.

At its “State of the company” meetings, Nordstrom, his family and executives meet with every single employee to get an update of how the year went and where it should be going in order “to maintain and enhance our culture.”

For Infusionsoft, a creator of sales and marketing software for small businesses, the company holds the same sentiment when it comes to culture but adds to it by leading with “care.”

“Our culture team is pulled by the organization forward,” says Anita Grantham, vice president of people at Infusionsoft. But it’s not just that team pushing the effort, she explains: “Our organization is so ingrained that it is just part of our business strategy.” 

The company, which primarily works with businesses of 25 employees and less, seeks to help those organizations streamline all processes as they grow. But for all “infusionites,” as Grantham refers to her company’s employees, it became a challenge to address what best practices could help as Infusionsoft itself grew in size, recently topping out at about 500 workers.

“Can we scale care in our leaders? We believe we can,” she says. “And we said ‘it’s not just care for people, it’s care for the cause.’”

Nordstrom Inc. and Infusionsoft do share the common goal of growing talent within their organization, rather than recruiting from the external market.

“I think we should be putting 95% of our effort on the existing culture and the existing environment,” Nordstrom explains. He notes that it is important for new candidates to hold the same cultural values as existing workers, many of whom have been employed for 40-plus years with the retailer.

Grantham explains that one of her company’s core values is “check your ego at the door.” 

“Leadership is not about ego,” she explains, though she adds that the organization can help align people with the business model by utilizing “leaders that are homegrown.”

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