I recently finished reading a few of almost 600 pages of postings on MSN’s message board concerning an article by Scott Burns, entitled Is Home Depot Shafting Shoppers?
In a very short period, this article received confirmation that indeed Home Depot was shafting its customers, at least that’s what over 5,000 authors believed when I last looked. MSN Money reports an additional 10,000 emails.
What a corporate nightmare! First, the company suffers from the obvious public relations blowout by having the negatives of the store being flaunted so publicly.
Second, Home Depot employees used this public forum to outline how company policies have not only burned their customers, but also their employees.
Third, the current and relatively new CEO, Frank Blake, publicly apologized to customers and employees, pleading for “a chance” and says “the company is taking steps.” They’re going to be hiring 15,000 new employees to address these problems.
Hmmm. I’d say it’s a pretty bad day in Atlanta.
Out of curiosity, I made a trip to the Home Depot website. I wanted to see what image the site conveyed about the company, how the career page was crafted, and how all of that squared with the lousy experiences reported on the MSN message board.
The headline on the career page reads: A Team. A Future. A Career. What Will You Build? According to the employees responding to Scott Burns’ article, Home Depot workers don’t have a chance to build a lot.
The real surprise was to see the company values page. Taking Care of Our People, Excellent Customer Service, Respect for All People, Building Strong Relationships, Doing the Right Thing, Giving Back to the Community, Entrepreneurial Spirit, Create Shareholder Value.
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Of the eight listed values, one would have to conclude that the real emphasis has been on Create Shareholder Value while ignoring the other seven. But that isn’t anything new, is it? We’ve all read corporate values for other companies. Unfortunately, such proclamations are supposed to act as guideposts for all employees, from the tip-top all the way down. Few do. Home Depot’s obviously does not.
The next surprise was to check out Home Depot’s jobs, that is, if you can. It is the most convoluted job site I’ve ever seen. First, one has to pick the city and state and then pick preferred stores by address. A long laundry list of jobs roll down, jobs that may or may not have an opening at the store you have selected.
The obvious question is why limit possible applicants to just one store in a given market? In my market, Portland, Oregon, there are 10 Home Depots listed. I am within 20 minutes of at least three Home Depots. Why not give me the capability of searching as many stores as possible?
I think it will take Home Depot a long time to find 15,000 additional workers who will slog through its job site to find possible openings.
Four Lessons to Learn
What can every business, large and small, learn from this ugly episode at the expense of Home Depot?
- You reap what you sow. When a company, no matter how large or small, forgets the importance of the customer, everyone pays. Employees are the face of the organization to the customer. If the employees are unhappy, frustrated, tired, and overworked, where does all that ugliness land? It lands at the feet of the customers. That is, until the customers decide to take their feet to the competitor. Employees leave as well. The loyal, hard-working; reliable ones are out the door. In their wake are those who hate their jobs, don’t care, or are just inept, but continue to sour the environment.
- Listen to the criticism. Frank Blake certainly was listening to the criticism appearing on MSN and took a huge step forward by responding on the message board. I have a hard time imagining some of today’s CEOs earning $20 million or more a year breaking a sweat over some customer backlash on MSN; perhaps in the WSJ, but not on the Internet. Upper management needs to be less insulated by its VPs and middle managers and all the folks who are paid to keep the bad news away from the Big Guy. Upper management needs to get their feet out onto the floor and experience what customers do. They need to answer the customer service phone calls once in a while to better understand customers’ wants and needs. They used to refer to this as Management by Wandering Around. Getting out from behind the desk would probably be a most enlightening experience for most of today’s CEOs and presidents. What about HR’s role? My ideal is that HR should be more like a conduit or the bridge between management and its employees. Yes, HR needs to have a seat at the strategic table. But they also need to truthfully represent the company’s human capital in a way that makes upper management stop and think before they deploy disastrous policies on its employees.
- Walk your talk. Now that Frank Blake has asked his customers and employees to “give us a chance”, he better figure out how to make a significant difference and make it fast! He has to put some fire under all of his management team to get tangible changes down to the store level. For an organization the size of Home Depot, that’s a bit like turning the Queen Mary. But then, this is probably why he earns the big bucks that so many CEOs earn these days. If he doesn’t make significant changes, he can be assured that he’ll lose more good customers, more good employees, more off his bottom line, and maybe his job. The big issue is going to be matching up all the great things on the Home Depot website’s job pages and make certain they really mirror employees’ experiences. If the company’s website is out of sync with reality, it will not bode well for Home Depot’s aggressive recruiting efforts.
- Respect, with all your heart, your most precious asset?your people. Once negative publicity about a company gets rolling, particularly across the Internet, a company has a steep mountain to climb. A climb that wouldn’t be necessary if upper management paid attention to its employees. It is high time for today’s CEOs to wake up to the fact that an organization that cares about its employees? genuinely cares? will always be able to muster sufficient profits for Wall Street in the best and worst of times. This is because happy, well-treated employees will always want to deliver more in return. Bad employees? Well, they’re just bad hires who could be avoided if organizations like Home Depot employed aggressive screening and effective profiling techniques. Do you think they do? I don’t. No, bottom-line profitability probably won’t allow for up-front investments in making certain that Home Depot hires the right people for the right jobs. Why waste the money? It’s so much wiser to burn it with high turnover!
After 30 years working with companies of every size and dimension, I am continually frustrated by the dumb, bone-head moves that most of management make in the name of ROI. With thousands of new business books, new theories, globalization, and technological advances, it seems a bloody shame that business can’t figure out one of the most basic tenants to success? treat your people well and they will deliver.
This is a universal law of business. Frankly, it is a universal law of life. It always has been and it always will be.