Am finally getting back in the swing of things after a productive trip to Asia and a well-needed mini-vacation, as I noted earlier. I regularly save all sorts of articles and items I find in the hope that I will comment on them in my blog. So here’s one that I read about in The Wall Street Journal in the Boss Talk Column (June 5, 2008). The interview with the CEO of Home Depot, Frank Blake, focuses on how he is refurbishing the company since he took over 18 months ago. As you can imagine, the challenge is particularly difficult for Home Depot considering that the housing and mortgage crisis has basically collapsed.
Since I have recently been writing about and studying how companies restore their reputations after crisis strikes (also wrote a book on the topic), I found Blake’s answers to several questions particularly illuminating and spot on. Blake mentioned that he was lunching with Coca-Cola’s CEO who asked him “Where are you in the dark night of change?” At first, Blake says he was unsure what the CEO meant. It became clear when Isdell drew a timeline of how you navigate through challenges: “…things get tougher rather than better, and so doubts start to grow.” The dark side of change in the recovery process hits all CEOs that are trying to undo reputation damage. There are many stumbles along the way that feel like someone yelled “lights out.” CEOs might remember that recovery takes several years, not 12 months, and the only way to see the horizon is to make the long journey. Additionally, most CEOs who turn around their company reputations say that it was worth the trip since failure usually equates with opportunity.
Blake also mentioned in the interview that he began a survey asking stores to rate how well company HQ was doing. I thought that was a smart way to get feedback, tough as it might be to face the music. Blake honestly comments on their grade: “…unfortunately our scores are not very good. If a store got the same score, we would consider it underperforming and we would be flipping out.”
The interview provides three important lessons about the recovery process when reputations are in the danger zone. First, plow through the dark days. Second, try the hard things such as asking your employees to rate how you are doing. Three, overdose on rewards and recognition. Regarding the last lesson, Blake asks stores to send him examples of employees doing extraordinary things and he writes personal handwritten notes thanking them for their efforts.