How The Home Depot’s Focus on Associates Helps Them Deliver for Their Customers
Photo Credit: AfroTech

How The Home Depot’s Focus on Associates Helps Them Deliver for Their Customers

Technology is all around us, even in spaces you least expect. For those interested in a tech career, this abundance has meant finding opportunities in roles and companies not traditionally known for their technology development. For The Home Depot, the tech boom has meant leaning into digital transformation and enhancing the ways customers can search and view product recommendations, purchase products, find solutions and get products delivered, among other things. In late 2017, the world’s largest home improvement retailer announced its multi-year plans to invest $11.1 billion into its interconnected “One Home Depot” digital strategy. 

That strategic and agile foundation enabled The Home Depot to quickly react during COVID-19. From implementing curbside pick-up to enhancing digital search options, The Home Depot is well positioned to effectively address the evolving needs of their customers and associates. That includes working to increase diversity and inclusion initiatives to ensure their internal team reflects the diversity of customers at The Home Depot.

For DeSha’ Rogers-Givens, Technology Director of Search at The Home Depot, it’s a fast-paced environment that he’s thrived in, thanks in part to his ability to transform new technology into tangible solutions. During a recent interview with AfroTech, DeSha’ discussed how The Home Depot is embracing digital change, diversity in tech and more.

AfroTech: Tell us about your journey to The Home Depot. What’s your current role like?

DeSha’ Rogers-Givens: In my role, I search for recommendations, and what that means is I lead the vision and strategy for the search, product personalization and recommendations group. The position here isn’t just strategy. It’s also about empowering leaders and leadership to remove any roadblocks that others might have and aligning with our cross-functional partners. Search or product discovery is part of the retail industry and what we do isn’t just online — it’s also a lot of what we have in store. 

As far as how I ended up here, I actually started at The Home Depot as a software engineer, one of the most entry-level positions you can have in a software engineering role, and just progressed in increasing jobs and responsibilities across our marketing and online and technology functions.

AT: How does The Home Depot contribute to career mobility for its associates, or how do you feel it has impacted you?

DeSha’: I think coming in as a software engineer in the very first role that you could possibly have and ascending to a role in leadership speaks tremendously to the opportunities that The Home Depot offers. The focus of our leaders here is really about the people; that’s instinctively a part of the culture. But since we’re such a large company, especially in the technical space, it affords you the opportunity to do more than just move up the ladder. So if there’s something that you have an interest in — technology or supply chain or point of sale — there’s an opportunity for you to join a project over on that side. It’s a space for growth. Whatever you want to try, it exists. 

AT: What are common misconceptions people have about The Home Depot?

DeSha’: I guess the first thing that we always get from AfroTech, or any other technology conference we attend, is “Why are you here?” They assume we just sell hammers and nails, but retail technology is a huge industry, and I don’t think people understand just how large it really is. You want to go into things people may not know — we’re a $110 billion company, right, so we’re building at scale. A small example of that is our user experience. If we can shave off training time for an associate in a store by 15 or 30 minutes, that has an exponential impact on cost savings, just because of how many store associates we have. 

We’re a national company. We have space in Atlanta, Austin, Dallas, Portland, Florida — we have offices all over the country. We also build a lot more software in house. The challenges our DIY and PRO customers face are very different than that of a traditional retail client. So for a lot of vendors, they have to build to scale. A vendor has to produce a product that they can sell to a multitude of companies. We will partner where it makes sense, but oftentimes we have to solve our own problems because we’re that unique.

AT: What are things people might not know about working at The Home Depot?

DeSha’: I think the vastness of the technology that we actually do. One thing we did a few years ago, we started to invest in our own internal associates as far as staying current. We started an in-house training program called OrangeMethod; I myself have taken classes there on strategy. I’ve also taken a React class, which just says “Hey, it’s something I’m interested in,” and The Home Depot has invested in instructors and office space so we can continuously be upskilling our associates. 

I also think people don’t know about the way we take care of our people. Everybody is going through COVID anxiety; I know I’ve lost my mind three or four times working from home [laughs]. It’s real! For taking care of our associates, especially those that work in our stores, we’ve invested more than $1.7B in associate benefits since the beginning of the pandemic. We were one of the first retailers to start to make changes to how we operate in-store, so we were a little bit ahead of the thing. And we made the quick decision to make sure that our associates didn’t stress about their hours. We provided additional paid time off, bonuses, dependent care solutions and other benefits to reinvest in our people — especially associates in at-risk categories, as per the CDC guidelines.  

AT: How else has the company shifted during the pandemic? In what ways has The Home Depot helped associates or customers?

DeSha’: Let’s start with the customers. The entire shopping experience had to be revisited in record time. So if we want to just talk about the speed at which The Home Depot had to pivot, I think that the pandemic is a great case study on that. Curbside pickup is huge, right? Customers don’t want to go into the stores, so we had to make that a pivot and make that a mainstay of our company, right? It was something that didn’t exist, and we had to get that out in 60 to 90 days. It started on a small scale. For our customers, it’s the way that we recommend products, the way that we remind you if something’s in stock that you requested (if you’re still looking for Lysol, for example) and things of that nature.

So with those types of features, we were able to enhance and really make a point of “Hey, our customers and the way that they shop has changed, where can we meet them? What makes sense for us to meet them at, and what can we do in a small amount of time and guide our customers’ responses?” And our customers responded. If you take a look at what we were able to do in the first few quarters of 2020 with record-breaking days of sales, especially in our digital space, it feels amazing. 

For the store support associates, the shift is just the patience of working from home. I have become closer to some of my partners at work because I now see their kids on webcam calls. I know them by name, I know their voices. It’s the patience that we have afforded people to be comfortable and making sure that they are taken care of first.

AT: What’s something you like to see from companies who are pushing for more diversity in the tech industry?

DeSha’: We know what they mean when they say “Hey, we’re pushing for more diversity.” In what space is that? Is that in recruiting? Is that in inclusion? Is that having more diverse people in leadership roles? And once you have those goals in place, kind of an accountability point, it’s the action. It’s not all going to take place at once, but what are you doing to showcase that you do foster an inclusive culture, and you’re not just saying it? There are companies out there who won’t participate in a panel if it’s not diverse. They won’t make a hire unless it’s by a diverse panel within their own company in order to avoid any bias. So I think it’s great when companies recognize that we have an opportunity to say “Hey, here’s what we’re going to try to fix it.”

AT: In what ways has The Home Depot made diversity a priority within the organization?

DeSha’: We want to talk about inclusion of women, inclusion of minorities, inclusion of other cultures. We have several cross-functional committees across the organization; once a month in the office, there’s something going on that is rooted in making sure that people from their diverse backgrounds feel heard. But it also gets to teach people about other cultures too. I have a decent-sized organization, and it’s made up of people from all over the place, so I’ve had to learn about holidays I’ve never heard of. I made it a point to start to practice them — not just when it’s Hanukkah or Christmas, but when it’s Diwali. There is a big focus on that here. 

AT: What advice would you give Black professionals potentially interested in a career at The Home Depot?

DeSha’: Whenever I’m asked this question, as a Black professional, I always give everyone the same advice. First, tap into your network. The Home Depot has an open-door policy. I’ve never seen somebody not willing to help, whether it’s in person if you meet them at a conference. I don’t have a card, so I literally give people my email. What I can say is follow up. People do get busy, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t get a response the first time. Please continue to follow up. That is the one piece of advice that I would give a Black professional. At any company, the higher you go, the fewer minorities and fewer people of color in leadership you see. But I’ve never met someone in leadership here who will not make time to have a conversation.

The Home Depot is placing its associates and technology at the forefront of its innovation in retail. The company has a core value of taking care of its people, which includes exposure to opportunities for advancement and cultivating open environments where people can be their authentic selves. If you want to explore a career that goes beyond The Home Depot stores and distribution centers, browse some technology options in the Store Support Center. 

This editorial is brought to you in partnership with The Home Depot.

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