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Use Your Good Judgment in All Situations

Use Your Good Judgment In All Situations

Anthony Mersino

October 1, 2022

10:55 AM

Article at a glance
    • I received an email from Northwestern University urging special consideration for students affected by Hurricane Ian, prompting thoughts on the necessity of such a reminder to be kind to others in times of natural disaster.
    • The University’s late homework policy could potentially lead to students failing a class due to the hurricane’s impact, highlighting a situation where policy adherence may not align with humanitarian concerns.
    • Nordstrom’s employee handbook once emphasized a single rule: “Use Your Good Judgment in All Situations,” illustrating a trust in employees’ ability to make sound decisions.
    • Netflix similarly fosters a culture of trust by encouraging employee decision-making, open communication, and avoiding excessive rules.
    • Trust and treating individuals as adults with the capacity for good judgment can lead to more effective organizations, potentially reducing the need for extensive policies and procedures

Don’t Slam the Students Slammed by the Hurricane

I teach several classes at Northwestern and yesterday I received an email from the University Administration regarding Hurricane Ian. The email encouraged us to provide special care to students who were impacted by the hurricane:

Please keep in mind that you may have students who have been affected by Hurricane Ian. For those students, we recommend that you be as flexible and accommodating as you can in helping them manage and complete their coursework.

Doug Bakker, Director of Graduate Programs, Northwestern University

I appreciated the email but it really made me think. Do we need to tell people to treat others with kindness, particularly those caught in a natural disaster like a hurricane? It seems fairly obvious. Why wouldn’t we be kind to others? Why wouldn’t we be human with others?

It sounds like a simple and obvious request. It shouldn’t have to be asked, IMHO. People should just use good judgment.

But the reason that this had to be stated is probably related to the fact that the University has a late policy for homework. If someone is sticking to the policy, students caught in a hurricane could fail a class. The policy makes sense in most situations but not in a natural disaster.

Use Your Good Judgment in All Situations

Though it has changed now, Nordstroms was famous for having a very simple rule that comprised their entire employee handbook. The whole employee handbook boiled down to one phrase, Use Your Good Judgment in All Situations.

Peter Stromberg describes what it was like when he joined Nordstroms:

On my first day of work I was handed the “Employee Handbook”. The Handbook is a 5 x 8 inch card that says “welcome to Nordstrom” and then moves on to the rules: “Rule #1. Use your good 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.”

Peter Bromberg, Consultant

Nordstrom Employee Handbook - Use your Good Judgment in All Situations

Nordstroms didn’t try to describe every possible scenario or customer issue that could arise. It is impossible. Instead, they empowered the person on the front lines to make decisions based on sound judgment. It shows that they trusted the people that they hired. They trusted in adult behavior.

Sure, organizations can build a bunch of rules and establish policies. Most do precisely that. I am told that even Nordstroms no longer uses that simple rule for their employee handbook.

But what if organizations trusted their employees to act like adults? What would happen if that was the employers’ guidance- to use good judgment in all situations?

Can We Avoid Rules and Create Trust?

Netflix does something similar to Nordstroms. Netflix spells out the culture they are trying to create so they can hire for fit.  They consider themselves unique and special because they do the following:

  1. Encourage decision-making by employees
  2. Share information openly, broadly, and deliberately
  3. Communicate candidly and directly
  4. Keep only our highly effective people
  5. Avoid rules

One of the best ways to become trusted by others is to begin by trusting them. Our act of trust creates a virtuous and reinforcing cycle. Our actions alone can improve the level of confidence in any organization.

Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. If we act like we don’t trust people, we will reduce the overall trust in the organization.

What would happen if we all acted more like humans? And if we treated others like adults and trusted them to use their good judgment in all situations? Could we avoid some of the other rules? Would we need all those policies and procedures?

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