Talent Fatal Flaw

At one time it was the executive parking lot that was coveted, and over time, many organizations moved to open parking. A story appeared in the New York Times last week about Bob Nardelli, former CEO of Home Depot, and how he used to provide daily catered lunches for the company's officers on the executive floor, free, while the talent, aka "worker bees," ate in the cafeteria. This separation of leadership from the people who do the work is a fatal flaw for an organization. It sends the wrong message—it reeks of elitism. If we believe in our talent, if those we hire are people with brains, skills, and potential, why would we separate ourselves from them? Why wouldn't a leader see the advantages of getting to know the people who carry the brand of the organization and are vessels of great ideas? As Tom says, "If we would only bother to ask, the answers are on the front lines." Frank Blake, the new CEO of Home Depot, is quietly changing Nardelli's stance. The executives will take the elevator down to the cafeteria and eat with everyone else. I certainly hope that they don't all sit at one table and create a different kind of divide. Having lunch with associates is the best way to build a relationship, to get to know people, and to find out what is really going on in the "world" of your organization.

Apparently, the value of talent wasn't clear under the old regime at Home Depot. Older, experienced workers were "alienated," and Home Depot lost its edge on knowledgeable staff. It would appear that the ambition of the company got lost in the desire to make faster profit, the value of talent was lost in an attempt to save dollars, and, therefore, it should come as no surprise that the performance of the organization began to suffer.

As the New York Times wrote, "People who have met with [Mr. Blake] since he became chief executive, or have been briefed on these meetings, said he planned to improve the retail business by single-mindedly focusing on employee morale and customer service in the chain's 2,000 stores." Mr. Blake is going to focus on the talent and reset the ambition of Home Depot back to the basics of providing service and a great experience to shoppers. It's to be hoped that he can correct the talent problem, because until the talent can trust leadership and get on board with service as defining the brand again, any other changes won't matter much.

Some key questions to ponder: Are there any elitisms in your organization? What are your opinions on how leaders should interact with the talent of the organization? If you were an employee at Home Depot, what would it take for you to believe?