I read a book a very long time ago that I was looking through again the other day. The book’s name is The Nordstrom Way – The Inside Story of America’s #1 Customer Service Company, written by Robert Spector and Patrick D. McCarthy.
A couple of paragraphs from the first chapter caught my eye and reminded me why I got so much from this book so long ago. Read on …
Donald E. Peterson, the retired chairman of the Ford Motor Company and a longtime student of customer service and total quality management, believes the key to Nordstrom’s success is that “Nordstrom gives all of their employees the charge to service the customer and the authority to do it. The evidence is clear: You look like a far better manager and supervisor when you give power to people …” In 1981, when he headed Ford, Petersen sought the consultation of W. Edwards Deming, the famed expert on business management who advised the Japanese on how to rebuild their industry after World War II. Deming , who died in 1993 at the age of ninety-three, spent the last years of his life encouraging American corporations such as Ford and Xerox to consider workers as partners rather than antagonists. In order to do that, these corporations had to transform their entire culture.
As the idea of “empowering the workers” has become the new mantra of business, the basic question facing American industry is this: Why have so few companies been willing to implement this simple concept?
Over the years since reading this book and reading many others on leadership, empowerment, culture change, etc., I have often asked this question myself. Why is something that makes so much sense so tricky in actual practice? The book goes on to say that the reason for this is that management “is afraid to give frontline employees the power and authority to make a difference” because they are afraid that someone will make a mistake, making “them” (management) look bad. Is that it?
I don’t know. Although this is often the case, I think there’s much more to it than looking bad. I believe it boils down to culture, and an organization’s culture reflects its senior leaders.
I’ve said this before. Good leaders are rare. Consequently, only a handful can create the organizational culture necessary to foster employee empowerment, essential to achieving excellent customer service, regardless of the business.