Getting The Best Out Of 300,000 Employees
By Matt Pillar, editor in chief
At a press event for the launch of a host of new retail hardware from Motorola on Wednesday, Home Depot Sr. Director of Store Operations Jennifer Smith gave cause for skepticism. Headlining a panel discussion, she talked of technology being but one of the tools the company is deploying to “enable the excellence” of its more than 300,000 associates.
It sounded to me like little more than PR prattle, reminding me of the time an LP exec from a similarly-staffed retail enterprise told me she didn’t have an issue with employee theft. Yeah, right.
I might come off as a cynic, but Home Depot is no Apple in terms of associate skill level. I wouldn’t even call it a Best Buy.
Later in the day’s programming, though, my skepticism began to turn around. First, I had the chance to see some of the technology in question in action. Motorola has been busy making a “retail-ready” tablet that rivals anything on the consumer market in its ET1, an associate-targeted smart badge in the $300 price range (the SB1), and perhaps most interestingly, task management and customer-facing apps for both. Senior Director and Retail Industry Lead Frank Riso led a tour through a virtual store, stopping at multiple stations to demonstrate the mobile interactivity these devices enabled. The “apps” I reference are more accurately labeled “modules,” each feature-rich enough to stand on its own and each flexible enough to integrate with enterprise software programs to increase connectivity and integration.
Seeing the collaborative and well-managed task management and compliance effort enabled by these devices in real-time, the idea that you could take more than 300,000 associates in a category killer and begin to lift all ships was suddenly not so far-fetched. The impersonal and automated nature of M2M communication can truly be a difference maker in task management and compliance.
To round out the day, I spoke with Smith herself, revealing my skepticism in no uncertain terms. She stared me down from behind her glasses and confidently explained that there’s more to associate education and empowerment at Home Depot than First Phones and tech-enabled compliance. “This is less about technology and more about a shift in culture and behavior driven by none other than EVP Marvin Ellison himself,” she explained. Smith says the company is three years deep into a detailed and systematic associate empowerment program, and its Net Promoter scores – three years on the upswing – are a testament to its success.
I have little doubt that technology will contribute to that success significantly, specifically the mobile stuff we’ll see broaching the market from Motorola this fall and winter. Consumer-facing tech gets all the glory, and the consumers still wield most of the power, but I think the enterprise tech retailers will put to use to improve store operations and customer engagement in the coming months will begin to level the playing field.