An Interview with Michelle Boyea
By Wendy Johnson

Michelle Boyea is the Director of Human Resources for Services for The Home Depot, the world's largest home improvement retailer. The Home Depot was founded in 1978 in Atlanta, Georgia, and currently The Home Depot and its subsidiaries operate more than 1,900 stores in the United States, Canada and Mexico. The company is credited with having revolutionized the home improvement industry by offering an unparalleled selection of products and services for both do-it-yourselfers and do-it-for-me customers under one roof.

The Home Depot and its subsidiaries not only offer building materials, lawn and garden products and interior decorating items, but also a wide range of services like free in-store clinics, design and decorating consultation, truck and tool rental, home delivery, and professional carpet, cabinet and roof installation. Michelle Boyea provides HR management for the Installation Services business as well as six Customer Contact Centers.

How did you find yourself in your current role?
In 2003, I was the Vice President of Human Resources for a company that was acquired by The Home Depot. I continued as the leader of Human Resources for the new subsidiary until being promoted to the Director of HR for Services in September of 2004.

In preparation for the company's growth and acquisition, you chose to work with a business coach. What issues were you facing at the time?
I was struggling with whether or not we should hyper-grow the business or stay with a more moderate growth plan in order to gain confidence that our business infrastructure could support accelerated growth later on. The conditions seemed right for fast growth and we were under significant pressure. We took the more conservative approach and the company was later purchased, predominantly for its sound technical and business infrastructure with the ability to scale. 

In addition, because the organization had struggled in the past retaining Human Resources leadership, I had a desire to define success in my role as Vice President of Human Resources. I saw business coaching as a way to work through these issues and come to clarity about how to best guide the organization. 

What did you look for as you selected a business coach?
I looked for a coach with whom I could easily build a relationship, a coach I could respect who would not be afraid to challenge my observations and help me reach out to other people for opinions and knowledge. The coaches I worked with had assisted my previous company during a significant downsizing, and I appreciated that we already had established trust and respect through our existing relationship.

What business and organizational development issues did your coaching focus on?
We were facing significant challenges as a company prior to our acquisition by The Home Depot:

  • 200% turnover in sales positions
  • Core values but little to no practical leadership guidelines
  • Difficulty in recognizing and rewarding "top performance"

Through the coaching partnership, I began to look at each issue and dissect it, looking at options and best and worse case scenarios. I began to connect with others and ask their opinion rather than keeping the burden of having all the answers on myself. 

My biggest goal was to identify metrics for success in hiring, retention, and employee performance. I knew that if I started preaching traditional Human Resources metrics (cost per hire, sources, time to fill, attrition, etc.), I wouldn't capture the President and CFO's attention. Instead of focusing completely on revenue initially, we shifted the focus and measurement to the quality of people we were bringing into the organization. We focused on giving our sales managers the skills and confidence to find the right people. With the support of three centralized recruiters and the well-trained managers, it meant that over 200 hundred people were now making well-informed decisions and hiring nearly 1,000 people annually. We narrowed the scope of the leadership training we provided the sales managers so that the training they received would be completely relevant to them. We then measured our hiring success, the success of our new salespeople and the managers who hired them on appropriate revenue targets at 30, 60 and 90 days.

What was the return on investment (ROI) of the business coaching?
We were able to reduce turnover by 50% in one year and obtain over 20% growth.

What are the major challenges that have faced you as you have stepped into your current role as The Home Depot's Director of HR for Services? How are you overcoming these challenges?
One of the most significant challenges is helping the business understand that a true Services business model is different from a retail-centric one. As Services, we also carry a significant responsibility to keep the quality of our work in the forefront and maintain the quality of our brand.

As a company, we have needed to recalibrate our organizational structure. It was historically lean and senior leaders were spread too thin to be effective. While proper span of control still remains a priority, we have built our business around product categories that are recognizable within the industry. Accordingly, acquisition transitions can more seamlessly integrate into our everyday operations. We also have General Managers who oversee these categories and need to drive them as independent businesses that support our overall growth strategy. As a result, our Services arm can grow to operate independently and distinguish itself from the retail side of the business.

What philosophy guides you as you navigate your role?
"Don't let perfection be the enemy of better." In other words, if you wait to have everything perfect, you'll never take any action.

What approaches have been most helpful to you?
I have always considered it my role as a Human Resources professional to support, engage and enable the business. Through the relationships I am able to build in the business and within Human Resources, I assist in driving business change while reminding key decision-makers of the basics and practical common sense. I like to think I am the business' conscience. 

In addition, it's important to me to explore non-traditional solutions to the issues we face. When I was part of the organization that was acquired by The Home Depot, I was the fifth Human Resources leader hired in about two years. Within two months, I developed a strategic plan to create a Human Resources business function that would deliver on several key initiatives. One of those initiatives paid for my team's salary that first year. In actuality, we became a profit center generating more savings to the company than HR expenditures.

What person or event has most influenced and inspired you? 
In the 1960s, my mother lost both my older brother (who died of leukemia at age six) and my father (who at age 31 was killed in a car accident) within 10 months of each other. She was left with two daughters, ages two and four, one of whom was disabled and needed several reconstructive surgeries over a period of six months (that was me). She made it through and still has as much energy today. That strength and sheer determination continues to inspire me both professionally and personally.

What are some of your personal and professional goals?
I want to see more of the world and eventually work internationally, a goal that was fueled further by our recent family vacation to Ireland. I want to be "Superwoman"--a contributing Mom, supportive wife and involved business partner. However, I'm not shooting for perfection, just getting better every day. Recent feedback from my eight-year-old son told me I'm on the right track: when I asked him what he loved most about his mommy, he said, "that you're trying harder and harder to come home from work to be with us." 

I also feel that the greatest gift I can offer my children is to help them find a profession that is a natural extension of who they are, leading to real passion about what they do. That's what I did, and it gets better every day! My husband and I would like to write a book about how parents can identify what skills their children have as a "natural talent," and we have the outline for the book!

What advice do you have for men and women seeking leadership positions?
Be humble. There are so many people who are confident they can do more than they actually can. Confidence is necessary, but being overly-so can cause you to contribute in a very superficial way. It's okay not to be able to do everything.

Also, be true to yourself and who you are. Your character and reputation are completely within your control.

What makes The Home Depot so successful?
A large number of locations make The Home Depot, and the products that our customers need, easily accessible. The Home Depot has been, and continues to be, the innovator in home improvement. Its reputation has been built on taking care of the customer with exceptional service, value and associate know-how.

As a consumer, when I need to get something for my home, I go to The Home Depot because I believe they will have it and I believe it will be fairly priced. That reputation has helped to build a loyal customer base.

How will you maintain your competitive advantage as you expand globally?
I believe the keys to The Home Depot's global success will be:

  • Knowing our customers' wants and needs before the competition and maintaining that keen awareness
  • Understanding and respecting cultures
  • Getting the best locations for our retail stores (a critical component)
  • Sourcing the right products and services for the market
  • Making the right call on local leadership

How is The Home Depot creating value at a time when "price" seems to be ruling the marketplace?
Our value lies in ease of access and in offering additional services that are valued by our customers. We also offer high-quality products at a reasonable price, because price seems to be the dominant factor in "do-it-yourself" decisions and selection the second.

What are the most pressing issues facing your company today?
One of our biggest challenges is to capture the attention of the associates in a "do-it-myself" retail model and help them understand Services can also "do-it-for" our customers. We also need to hire and keep the best people.

How will your company grow to the next level?
Our growth strategy includes:

  • Adding acquisitions that fit into the philosophy and vision of our company
  • Continuing to differentiate The Home Depot as the destination store by adding more services that are valued by our customers
  • Hiring bright, energetic associates and giving them the direction and tools to achieve the company's goals

My role in this vision is to continue to ask how I and my team can contribute to these strategic business initiatives. I'll continue to support growth while helping the organization grow in the right way.

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