But new rooms, new additions and new homes aren’t the only things being built through Home Depot. Every year, about 300,000 Home Depot associates undergo some sort of career-building training and development, designed to enhance their careers and further the company’s productivity and customer satisfaction.
“The way we have this set up is basically every Home Depot associate has a meaningful amount of training every single year,” said Gary Jusela, The Home Depot’s vice president, learning. “We have what you call a position-based curriculum for each position, every department in the store. Every associate has a curriculum they’re expected to go through. Even for seasoned associates, there is continuous education. We touch a lot of people, and most of them multiple times per year, and a lot of them multiple times per month.”
That education can take a variety of shapes, from printed materials distributed to stores to on-site instruction to e-learning programs. For example, Jusela said, a four-hour e-learning program on lift-truck safety was rolled out in 2002, and in the first 12 months, 100,000 Home Depot associates completed the course, tested and were certified in the equipment operation.
“The real driver on that is we believe our competitive success depends on having an educated workforce, especially in the stores. People that understand our products, people that understand our customers, people that understand how to sell our products and how to use our products together to complete a project. We put a lot of focus on store-level associate education, as well as a lot of focus on developing our leadership and management,” Jusela said. “I’ve worked for a lot of large companies over the years, but honestly I’ve never worked for a company with a stronger embedded commitment to learning and development than what I see in Home Depot.”
That’s not surprising, considering Home Depot’s mission statement, with its four principal points: allowing associates to realize their aspirations, exceed customer expectations, better lead the business and drive competitive success.
For Jusela, Home Depot’s quest for learning was a factor from the beginning. When first considering the position, he spent an hour with CEO Bob Nardelli discussing the importance of associate education. Nardelli, he recalled, said he wanted each Home Depot associate to appreciate in value the way, well, the way a remodeled house would.
“I thought, ‘That is just a great answer, especially coming from a CEO of the company.’ He’s really thinking about this as a continuous investment in everybody who works in this place,” Jusela said. “I know he really believes that.”
Jusela and his team now are looking at various delivery methods to reach the large number of steady and seasonal employees. In addition to the e-learning drive, Jusela is also pondering large-scale deployments of instructor-led learning. Most leadership development is done face-to-face, while the e-learning, instructors and printed materials serve as blended learning solutions for in-store training.
“I would say right now the preponderance of our delivery is still a combination of face-to-face, instructor-led, one-on-one, belly-to-belly kind of learning in the aisles of the stores, as well as self-paced. We have a lot of self-guided materials that associates can pick up and go through in anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. But we’re adding to that e-learning for every department in the store,” Jusela said. “We’ve rolled out basic product knowledge education for three of the major departments in the store (paint, plumbing and hardware), and all the departments will be covered by April 2003.”
In the past year, Jusela’s team has reorganized the learning function to focus on five major areas: needs assessment; costing, budgeting and funding; content creation; content delivery; and evaluation and follow-up. He’s also building a process-based organization, making “total seamless learning” between field locations and his Atlanta offices easier.
Naturally, training on that level does not happen alone. In addition to his learning team, Jusela works closely on a regular basis with Nardelli and CFO Carol Tomé. That strategic planning process, he said, helps them put together a game plan that melds company priorities with affordability.
“I’ve got a full game plan for 2003 about what courseware I’m going to develop, about what courses we’re going to deliver to the field,” Jusela said. “What we can’t allow ourselves to be is just a deli counter that anybody can walk up to and ask for anything they want and we just pile it on without any sense of control. It’s got to fit within our company strategy, it’s got to be really designed to drive the business priorities that matter to us.”
But cost-effective certainly doesn’t mean important corners are being cut. Using e-learning for its cost savings and time-friendly delivery has allowed Home Depot to spread the message. Each store has at least two e-learning computers solely dedicated to the function, all installed within the past year.
Jusela oversees all the training, even that delivered in stores. A staff of field trainers and learning specialists handle the face-to-face curricula, along with departmental supervisors, store management and human resource representatives. The training is tracked through Home Depot’s home-grown learning management system, the Training Tracking System. That system monitors which associates have received what information and helps Home Depot managers make decisions on bonuses and performance reviews.
Jusela is still working on quantifying the success of the educational efforts. One method he’s using is piloting some vendor-specific e-learning modules at some stores, then comparing sales results at stores that have not yet received the training.
“The preliminary findings on that indicate we can have a significant impact with this very product-specific education that we’re going after,” Jusela said. “I’m always interested in figuring out how what we do learning-wise drives business success, but I won’t spend so much money and time on that that it becomes a distraction from accomplishing our overall mission.”
Business results aside, Home Depot’s efforts are certainly getting attention. Jusela has recently been running a series of five-day learning forums for store and district managers. A recent program targeted 125 managers in New England locations. At the end of the week, 122 of those managers gave the forum a perfect 5.0 score, while two managers rated it a 4.0 and one wrote in a 4.8 score.
“The hunger and the sheer gratitude for being involved in this is just extraordinary,” he added. “They’re so hungry for the knowledge. One of the things about Home Depot as part of its history is that this is a company where people can make their dreams come true. People have been able to come to Home Depot without a college education and reach tremendous heights in the company. What we’re able to offer is so highly sought after it’s just unbelievable.”
Unbelievable maybe, but certainly not unsupported. In addition to Nardelli and Tomé, Jusela has found allies on the Home Depot board. Nardelli regularly makes appearances at the training forums, as do some board members.
Looking ahead, that support will continue to be appreciated.
“Two things right now are mission-critical for 2003. Certainly the marketplace will verify and validate this, but No. 1 is driving sales. Anything that we can do right now to really bolster our curriculum to help us better drive sales performance in the stores is going to be a huge, huge priority. So we’re going to continue building out our product knowledge—e-learning as well as instructor-led and self-paced,” Jusela said.
The second major area is building leaders from within the company. Jusela is rolling out an 18-month curricula to bring the five-day forums to all key store- and district-level leadership, including departmental supervisors, store management and district managers.
“A lot of what we’re doing right now as a company is putting the systems and processes and disciplines in place to take us to a successful future,” Jusela said. “The learning infrastructure is viewed as a really important component of that. I truly feel like a valued member of Bob Nardelli’s team. You ask what’s next; it’s to continue to build and solidify and establish this learning function as the best learning function we know how to create.”
That’s a crucial building project for both Jusela and his company.
“We have a reputation for customer service, and our making good on our commitment to customer service really depends on having educated associates at every level of the company,” he said.