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The Home Depot Story: Tiny Things That Great CEOs Do

JacquelynKung's picture

By Jacquelyn Kung

The Home Depot story is ripe with lessons for the senior living and senior care industry. You might remember about ten years ago, Home Depot was being slaughtered by Lowes and other home improvement options. Then, a new CEO arrived . . .

Within two years, their business was once again booming.

What happened?

When Frank Blake got tapped to be CEO, he had never run a line organization. Sure, he had done well in his career, but he did not have operational experience. In fact, he candidly admits in interviews that he was terrified.

He had one thing going for him, a little thing that was a huge thing . . . a new mindset.

Servant Leadership

CEO Frank was committed to the concept of servant leadership. He mentally placed himself at the bottom and the store associates at the top.

Despite running a massive, complex organization, Frank worked in a store every other week, unloading trucks or on the floor. One day, after a shift as a cashier, he recounted how a store associate chuckled to him: a customer asked if Home Depot had a program with AARP to employ older workers.

The customer was wondering why the old bald guy (aka Frank) was there.

Real Heros

Frank implemented programs where frontline associates get heralded as heroes for amazing customer service. He fostered a culture of sharing stories of how an associate became a hero for customers. Soon, the culture spread -- and morale improved.

New Traditions

Frank and his management team put in place a number of new programs. Most were small, but all genuine.

For instance, Frank began writing handwritten notes to thank associates when he heard about a story of great customer service. He wrote over 200 notes per month! Each was short but tailored to details of the associate and the customer service story. Frank wrote so many notes that he got tired and was thinking about stopping. But then an associate -- who received one of his notes -- approached him and asked him to rewrite it. When Frank asked why the associate responded that his coworkers did not believe it was handwritten. They said that a machine wrote it to look like it was handwritten. The associate thought they had a good point. The associate explained that they put the note under some water and watched as the ink bled! Everyone then knew it was handwritten, but the note was ruined. The associate cherished that note and that's why he requested him to rewrite it.

Little Things Matter

It was at this moment that it struck Frank: “These tiny things matter.” He continued his note-writing for the entire 7-8 years he was CEO of Home Depot. It became contagious, inspiring others on his team to start sending handwritten notes and in turn members of their own teams began handwriting thank you notes. It made a huge difference.

Home Depot and Senior Living

  • New Leadership -- With the majority of CEOs, particularly in the non-profit sector, over age 55, we need to grow new leadership that is forward-thinking. We have a unique opportunity to promote diversity, especially given that our floor staff is so diverse: women, minorities, immigrants, disabled, LGBT, and others.
  • New Mindset -- Servant leadership is almost cliché; it does not mean dropping into a community for a few hours. What would it be like if C-suite and other corporate folks worked a day or two in a month washing dishes, folding laundry or driving a bus?
  • New Heroes -- Our heroes are the caregivers, nurses, housekeepers, line chefs, servers, and others who delight our residents on a daily basis. If we can recognize their heroics on a daily basis, our industry will thrive.
  • New Traditions -- Frank found that a simple handwritten note worked better than spot bonuses because it recognized the specifics of a heroic act. And it carried the authority of the CEO in doing so.

What tiny things can we do that permeate recognition of our heroes?

What other ideas can you share? Please leave your comments below! 

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