It has oft been said
that we get
what we pay for.
This is also true
for your hires.
would pay bottom dollar
triple A performance.
While a professional
may be expensive,
nothing will hurt
more than an amateur.
It has oft been said
that we get
what we pay for.
This is also true
for your hires.
would pay bottom dollar
triple A performance.
While a professional
may be expensive,
nothing will hurt
more than an amateur.
I pray this letter finds you in good spirits. I am reaching out to you regarding the Extra Support Walk that the 1971 Simi Valley Store will be having on September 6th. I have no doubt that you have read my previous letters I submitted to Communications so it should come as no surprise that I have been scheduled off the day of the walk, as have many of my fellow associates who have within them the courage to speak out. Though I will not be present for the walk, I figured that, if anything is to be heard that day, let it be this. I know that you are a busy man so allow me to humbly thank you for taking the time to read my simple words and know that I will do my best to not waste any of your time.
Our store is currently operating at an EOS score of 47. How such a score is allowable without repercussions is beyond me. Steven, the Area HR, in his own demeaning way, did his best to explain the math behind the score, yet it only served to highlight everything wrong with what we are doing here at Lowe’s. The short, and ironically, complicated answer to the difficulties we face is that we are failing our associates. Pure and simple. Were you to walk in to our store, at this very moment, I could have you meet several associates that are unaware of the fact that we offer stock options or 401k plans. The root of this begins in the shoddy training that we offer. New hires are so far from being qualified to be on the floor that they become the very reason we have dissatisfied customers. This is not because they do not care; most of the new hires I have met in my years are quite capable of incredible things, yet we do not provide them with the knowledge needed to care for our guests. Back in my father’s day, they were trained by contractors so each and every associates knew how to set tile, or how to make a concrete slabs, or how to paint a house. Today, in an effort to save money, we have watered down and stripped just about every valuable resource to its most base form which has resulted in our new associates, our lifeblood, to become nothing more than dim-witted zombies. We cannot expect great things from our associates if we do not give them the tools that inspire them to be just that, and without being qualified experts in their field, we are doomed to shun customers with our ineptitude.
I am sure you have heard the phrase “You get what you put into it.” I could not agree more, so how about we practice what we preach and put into our associates what we hope to get from them? What we unfortunately see, at least at 1971, is associates being viewed as nothing more than expendable labor, and believe me when I say that there exists no more disheartening a face than an associate who believes that. This is a direct result of a management team that does not truly value their family.
I was made a Mentor in Building and Lumber and I have yet to mentor anyone, though I can say with a large degree of confidence that I am knowledgeable in that department, thankfully in part of an incredible Department Head I had back when I worked at The Home Depot. I received next to no training when I got hired. I, and many associates before and after me, did not attend any kind of Orientation. I still, to this day, have yet to see the inside of the LP’s office. What exists here is a team (if you could call it that) that is more than willing to submit papers saying they did something than actually doing it. This sort of negligence is rampant at 1971. I was transferred to Appliances because I wanted to learn a Specialist’s role in the hopes of becoming a Pro Desk Specialist. John Botkin asked me to learn Genesis so that I could polish my skills on the ordering side of things. I was promised solid training, even him going so far as to say that I would not be able to go out on the floor until I had passed my training. I have, so far, recieved zero training. No classes, no learning, not even Red Vest Ready certified. I thank the gods that be for Nanci and Russ and Veronica for their patience in training me, not only on entirely new products that I had zero experience with, but also their diligence in making sure I knew the in’s and out’s of Genesis. There is no intention on putting me at the Pro Desk. There never was. What they needed was a body, someone to balance the hours, and they saw the fact that I wanted to further my career at Lowe’s as some sort of malicious opportunity to prevent that from happening.
When we set this kind of status quo we create a work force that has no intention of bettering themselves, and why should they? Why should they when their needs and wants are mere trifles to our alleged leaders? Where is any incentive to do better, to be better, when we have managers that will tell associates that they are not cut out to be managers directly to their face? Or when we have managers that will tell veterans of our Armed forces, with decades of leading others in the face of death, that they do not possess enough experience in managing others? What we have is a management team that has become comfortable with mediocrity, with never going above and beyond, and why should they? Why should they exert any more resources into our associates when it will be less they will receive in their next bonus? I am sure you are well aware of the investigation between certain managers that were forcing our cashiers to add EPP’s to our guest’s transactions without telling them, as well as using other associates log-ins to avoid hurting the numbers of the front. What became of this investigation? They are clearly still employed, and we both know that if an associate was caught utilizing such a dishonest and underhanded business tactic, they would be fired on the spot. What kind of precedent does allowing this set? We cannot dare talk to our associates about accountability when we fail to hold management to any.
If we are to attempt to fix any of this mess, we must first start by setting standards. We simply cannot continue to operate like this. We cannot accept an EOS score of 47 to be passable. There is no more clear an indication of failure than this, and we must be willing do stand up and see the problem for what it truly is. If we are going to be in business, and truthfully and genuinely be about helping our guests love where they live, then we must be willing to do things the right way. We cannot accept dishonesty. We cannot accept hypocrisy. We must hold our managers to the same level of accountability as we do our loaders. There simply is no other way.
What we need, John, are leaders. Passionate people that are not satisfied with mediocrity, who thrive in thinking outside the box. Dedicated individuals who can inspire the greatness that exists within every associates here at Lowe’s. When we can put the right people in the right places, we can watch miracle after miracle after miracle occur. It is my sincere belief that a true leader does so from behind, not the front. They do not use intimidation or bullying to complete meaningless goals, but rather, subtly ignite the spark that spurs their team to fly to untold heights. A book I know describes leadership in what I believe to be the most pure expression of the term. It is this,
“The best leaders are those their people hardly know exist.
The next best is a leader who is loved and praised.
Next comes the one who is feared.
The worst one is the leader that is despised …
The best leaders value their words, and use them sparingly.
When they have accomplished their task,
the people say, “Amazing!
We did it, all by ourselves!”
Allow me to be clear, John. I am not calling for people to lose their jobs. However, when we allow ourselves to revel in mediocrity, we breed conflict. What I humbly ask, as both an associate and a human being, is a severly critical look at 1971. We need unannounced walks. Stop by in plains cloths and say nothing. Merely observe how things are. What you all see when you announce your walks is merely a facade, a miserable illusion, only to return to ruin the moment you leave the store. This is your chance to make things better, not just for yourself, but for the countless beautiful lives that work under you. We are tireless, passionate, dedicated, and courageous, but we can only give so much to a team that undervalues our work and ultimately, ourselves. Listen to us, John. We are the voice of Lowe’s. When guests walk through those doors, they don’t come in to see you. They don’t come in to see Marvin. Maybe a handful come in to see Mike. However, the vast majority come in to see us. We are the front line, the middle men and women between the guest and the product, and the last smile they see before they leave us. Knowing this, does it not make the most sense that when we provide for our associates, truly enable them to love where they work, we can get that much closer to helping each unique and wonderful person that walks through our doors love where they live? Isn’t this what we claim to be about?
Help me help these people, John. We might be the only ones that will.
Simi Valley Store#1971
Before I write this letter to all of you, I will preface this by saying that they have suppressed my third letter, titled “The “Blue” Solution”, by making it difficult to find in the blog list. If you or anyone else that you know would like to read it, feel free to message me and I will send you the link. It is shameful to know that you cannot speak critically about a company without them silencing your words, which no doubt sets a terrible precedent that I suspect not even they have accounted for the consequences.
What I could not know when I wrote my first letter was the sheer magnitude of you that felt the same as I. Indeed, though I knew only of the struggles that many at my store faced, I remained oblivious to the idea that other stores would be allowed to function in such a state. One of the many sentiments expressed at 1971 is that “surely, there cannot be other Lowe’s that are this terrible.” Witnessing firsthand the feelings held by many of you that resonated with what I had said truly opened my eyes to the fact that there is something terribly wrong with Lowe’s, something that we cannot allow to continue if we are to honetly tell the people that walk through our doors that our passion is to help them love where they live.
The meeting that I had with my District HR was, educational, to say the least. Though most of it was corporate smokescreens and conflict resolution tactics, I was afforded the invaluable chance to see the man behind the red vest. When he told me that “people only care about themselves and what they get out of anything” and that “no one is going to help you but you,” I was, at first, shocked. I am an optimist and though we are capable of some pretty horrendous and selfish acts, we are also gifted with the potential to become better than we are. However, the more I thought about his point of view, the more I began to understand it, though not in the way he hoped I would. Not in the fact that we are miserable, selfish people, but that no one is coming to save us. Certainly not HR, or our “leadership teams.”
The only people that can change Lowe’s is ourselves.
I came to the conclusion that the problems that exist at Lowe’s begin and end with us. I know that might be hard for some of us to hear. Many of us have felt victimized by those in power and have had our voice silenced. I am sure many of you can remember the training videos that deter us from unions, idiotically stating that we would be giving up our voice. I ask, what good is a voice if it falls on deaf ears? I am not advocating for unions; however, I am advocating for the power of our voice. When we fall silent over misdeeds and incompetent managers, we become the problem. We are just as guilty for our plight as those who do nothing for us. Allow me to illustrate this with a famous story about five monkeys.
An experimenter puts 5 monkeys in a large cage. High up at the top of the cage, well beyond the reach of the monkeys, is a bunch of bananas. Underneath the bananas is a ladder. The monkeys immediately spot the bananas and one begins to climb the ladder. As he does, however, the experimenter sprays him with a stream of cold water. Then, he proceeds to spray each of the other monkeys. The monkey on the ladder scrambles off. And all 5 sit for a time on the floor, wet, cold, and bewildered. Soon, though, the temptation of the bananas is too great, and another monkey begins to climb the ladder. Again, the experimenter sprays the ambitious monkey with cold water and all the other monkeys as well. When a third monkey tries to climb the ladder, the other monkeys, wanting to avoid the cold spray, pull him off the ladder and beat him. Now one monkey is removed and a new monkey is introduced to the cage. Spotting the bananas, he naively begins to climb the ladder. The other monkeys pull him off and beat him. Here’s where it gets interesting. The experimenter removes a second one of the original monkeys from the cage and replaces him with a new monkey. Again, the new monkey begins to climb the ladder and, again, the other monkeys pull him off and beat him – including the monkey who had never been sprayed. By the end of the experiment, none of the original monkeys were left and yet, despite none of them ever experiencing the cold, wet, spray, they had all learned never to try and go for the bananas. The metaphor and the lessons that apply to work are clear. Despite the exhortations from management to be innovative and collaborative, cold water is poured on people and their ideas whenever someone tries something new. Or, perhaps worse, the other employees suppress innovation, and learned helplessness spreads throughout the workplace.
One of my associates has been working hard to earn a full-time position at my store. So much so, that she began to apply to nearby Lowe’s in the hopes of landing any full-time position. She dreams of one day being a manager, so she applied for Service Manager positions. When one of our ASM’s discovered her passion, he told her that she did not have what it takes to be a Service Manager. The issue is not whether she is capable of handling the responsibilities that come with being a Service Manager, but the fact that no one is given the right to limit another person. True, not every person is cut out to be a manager, but what right do any of us have in telling someone they do not have that potential within themselves without first helping them discover that? Our purpose as leaders is to nurture our associates, to provide them the groundwork and the tools necessary to achieve the greatness that burns within. Yet, the shameful truth is that we are not investing in the part-time Lumber associate who works until his wrists can longer lift, the weekend warrior lot attendants drenched in sweat, the full-time single mother who is so close to completing her nursing degree so she can leave this hellish wasteland. WE are failing them. WE are the problem. When we snuff out our associates’ passions and dreams, what right have we to expect great things from them? How can we, in any sense of genuineness, state that we are here for them, that we are driven to provide a caring environment when we cannot even be bothered to provide for them?
This sort of learned helplessness runs rampant in Lowe’s. We have grown complacent and we stifle growth by following antiquated planograms and procedures that have only dug us further into this stygian vale of rotted values and dreams. When we confine ourselves to doing things a certain way because that’s how we’ve always done it, we willingly hamper ourselves and the one and only outcome that we have given ourselves is failure.
We cannot, in good faith, expect change if we are not first willing to change ourselves. We must have a standard, a bar that we will not allow to be lowered at any cost, a threshold that no one may dare cross. We will fall for everything if we stand for nothing, so I ask each and every one of you to stand for yourself. Speak out when you have been wronged. Our silence has led them to believe that we will accept sub-par “leaders” and that we are more than willing to continue drudging down the path of the underpaid and overworked. I know that many of you may have fallen silent out of fear; this job is your livelihood, your sole means of income. Perhaps you believe that speaking out may cost you your job. Or maybe you couldn’t care less about this job, so what good is trying to change it? I am telling you all that while one person may not be able to achieve the change that we so desperately need, if we all speak as one, they will listen. They must listen.
Remember that no one comes in to Lowe’s for Marvin. No one comes in because they support your District Manager or your HR. The people that walk through those doors come in to see you. You are what makes Lowe’s worth coming in to, and if no one will stand up and say that you are appreciated and that the sacrifices you have made for this company haven’t been for nothing then let that person be me.
You are appreciated.
You are invaluable.
You are the reason why people love where they live.
It’s not the products.
It’s not the EPP’s.
It’s not the leads.
It is you and it always has been.
My store is having what is called a “Support Walk” on the 6th of September. Corporate has decided to grace us with their presence and will come to our store and ask our associates how much we love working for Lowe’s and what they can do to make it even better. I say we tell them the truth. If your store is having a similar walk, I humbly ask you to print this and give to them. Feel free to copy and paste the entirety of this letter and send it to Marvin, to your District Manager, to your District HR. They need to know that we will not tolerate “leadership teams” that are allowed to stay employed with a 47 rating on EOS, or management that willingly subverts and deceives customers and abuses their associates.
This is our wake up call and the only ones that can make this place grow to untold heights is us. No one will help us. It’s time to help ourselves.
Simi Valley, Store#1971
It is truly unfortunate that you were unable to respond to me directly. While I will admit that it may have been naive of me to think that you would, a part of me still hoped that you would, at the very least, send me someone who had the capability of thinking freely and open to the idea that Lowe’s is not as great as it once was. Instead, I was given a parrot in a red vest who seemed content to regurgitate years of failed Lowe’s policy and the delusional line of thinking that has become the very source of the problems we face. While I have no doubt that the panel who filters your mail will never let this or the other letters I have sent ever reach your eyes, it is my hope that this, my final letter, reaches you and provides you with enough insight to see that now, more than ever, is the time for a different type of leader. One that is bold enough to go against the grain, to do what no other company has done, and exert the patience to see our new strategies pay off. If I had to applaud the managers at the store level for one thing, it would be their ability to generate problems where none exist so that they may create “solutions” in an effort to seem like they are doing something worthwhile. I can only imagine the amount of time, energy, money and associates that this has cost the company but, seeing as how there is very little in the way of ramifications for doing so, it is not too difficult to see the correlation between the current state of Lowe’s and the level of ineptitude of our “chosen leaders.” It is therefore my intent in this letter to provide solutions to the real and genuine issues that many in management would prefer we did not solve.
Allow me to first preface this discussion with the fact that I am not a thoroughly educated man. You will find no Masters in Business hung on my wall, nor will you find my name amidst any of the pages written in Warren Buffett’s books. As I have stated before, I am a 27 year old nobody with a penchant for writing. I can say with great certainty that what I DO know is people. I have triumphed with them at their highest and have grieved with them at their lowest. All of what I am about to suggest comes from my own experiences, not just as an associate but as a consumer, as well.
One of the fondest memories I have as a child was getting to go with my father to The Home Depot. Though I was a child, I vividly remember the smell of freshly cut lumber as I rode on top of the orange flat carts. I remember looking up and being struck in awe by the giant, floating Styrofoam chainsaw with a slowly moving chain. On the guide bar in orange spray paint read the word “Lumber” in big box letters. What I did not know until years later was that this was the work of one of the associates, named George, that worked at this store. He was a retired carpenter and he made giant displays like the one above for every department. The Paint Desk had a huge paint brush soaked in orange next to a massive gallon of paint that was in the middle of tipping over and you could see paint slowly oozing out of it. Garden had a colossal lawnmower hanging over the Seasonal Department, and if you walked underneath it, you could look up to find Styrofoam blades lazily spinning. A few years had passed until one day, I came in to find that they had all been taken down and the associate that had worked hard was forced to leave because he was making too much money.
Another instance of this can be found at an old drugstore that went by the name of “Longs.” I can still remember walking into that store near Christmastime, racing to the middle racetrack to see what new game they had on the demo kiosk. What made this particular Longs special was one particular associate, whom we will call James. He was an older man, well into his sixties, who had a passion for model trains. James loved model trains so much so that he got permission from his manager to build an entire track around the inner perimeter of the store, complete with model stores and cars and people. If you behaved exceptionally well, James would hand you the controller which would allow you to puff little wisps of smoke out of the smokestack and honk the train horn. Until, one day, Longs was bought out by CVS. The train set was gone, as was Jim, and what replaced it was cold LED lights that were reminisce of a sad doctor’s office, employees that aren’t paid enough for quality customer service, and an inferior product.
What I believe makes a small business vastly superior to a big business is not just their size, but their emphasis. Walk into any BMC, barbershop, or that small restaurant on the corner and you will immediately sense the difference between them and a chain store. Small businesses, like big businesses, know that the only way to keep their lights on is money, but they go about getting it in a radically different way. What separates them is customer service. You go to the little coffee shop on the corner because it is the best damn cup of coffee you can get and you love the way that the barista tells you stories of yesteryear. You go to the mom-and-pop hardware store because they always treat you like you’re coming over for Christmas dinner. What the store lacks in superior funding they more than make up for in out-of-this-world customer care.
I believe it is in the transition from small business to big that the emphasis on customer care is lost. No longer do we demand that our associates be of the highest caliber, true masters in their field, when it becomes cheaper to hire those of little value. Stores that were once founts of knowledge and decades of home improvement experience have become barren wastelands of unmotivated, untalented, and perhaps worst of all, uninspired wastes of space. This can only occur when a company starts seeing how much their associates are costing them instead of the value that their associates bring. The James’ and Georges of the past have been forced out because they are worth more than the company is willing to give them, so they push them out in the hopes that they can hire someone far less qualified and pay them just enough to keep them from wanting to be worth more.
The pitiful excuse for an HR you sent me told me of a time where he gave his team 25 dollar gift cards for their hard work, and of course, there was a teammate who felt like they had earned more. They refused the gift card, and the HR told me that he was actually doing the teammate a favor, because if you multiply the amount of money he spent on gift cards by the number of teammates, it would have cost him more than he was willing to spend on his team if he had increased the amount given. The issue I have isn’t that he didn’t give enough, it was that he was already looking at rewarding his team in terms of how much it was going to cost him, not how much he was going to gain by acknowledging their value. It is this mindset that is slowly, but surely, killing our worker base. The terrible truth is that they know this, and they are content with the idea that we will have mindless monkeys meandering the aisles. They do not want to pay us for our value; they want to pay us for our lack of it.
I remember you sent out an e-mail detailing some new program that would enable us to “close the gap” between us and the orange aprons down the street. I like to imagine it like this: Home Depot is an ice cream store that only serves vanilla. Not strawberry or chocolate, just plain old vanilla. It works as a safe bet for them because they know that no matter what, there will always be people that just want vanilla. However, they lose business from those that want anything but vanilla. Instead of trying to beat Home Depot at their own game, why don’t we try being something completely different? Why must we close the gap at all? What if we instead tried widening it, to the point where Home Depot begins to emulate us? We can play it safe, sure, and feel like we’ve accomplished something each quarter and be content with mediocrity. Or, we can set our sets higher and achieve more than we ever thought possible.
How we do this is completely reliant on how we treat our associates. We must look at them in terms of the value that they will bring to the floor instead of how much its going to set us back. When we do this, we inevitably raise our standards because we want associates that are not only knowledgeable, but friendly and are willing to go the distance for our customers. If you talk to any corporate parrot you will hear the phrase “You get what you put into it” more than you would care to hear. Why don’t we try practicing what we preach and put into our associates what we want to get? If we want honest, hard-working, dedicated, and passionate associates then we must first be willing to be the same for them. If that means paying them a little more to show our faith in them, is that truly a price too large? Sir Richard Branson once said “Train your associates well enough so they can leave. Treat them well enough so that they will not want to.” What we have instead is what I can only describe as a pathetic excuse for training paired with an almost insulting amount of payment for the knowledge we simply aren’t getting.
HR also told me that you have fired some people responsible for this mess, which I think is a good start. However, I do not believe that approaching this from a top-down perspective is going to get you far in achieving success. I believe you need to see things from an associate’s perspective. Anyone knows that a building is only as strong as its foundation, and we are the foundation for Lowe’s. We need to heavily inspect our foundation and see things from the bottom up. I’m not saying push carts for 8 hours in 90 degree weather while head cashiers breathe down your neck as they respond to pressure from their managers because they can’t morally sell EPP’s to customers without telling them, but it might be a good start.
I don’t know if you have read my last two letters but the response to them has been monumental. People from around the country have resonated with what I have said to such a degree that they are printing out copies and passing them around the store. I have spoken with so many wonderful people that wish that you would see the letters in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, you could be the change that we so desperately need. I take the response that I have gotten to be overwhelming evidence that something is terribly wrong in the way we think about retail, so this is our chance to be something different. I want us to rise above this petty “Orange vs Blue” mindset and instead focus on what makes Blue unique. Focus on what makes Blue special. And perhaps, someday soon, you will come to find;
It will always be, quite simply, us.