Skip to main content

The Customer Service Advantage: Innovative Learning Solutions


How do you mold a large workforce with a significant part-time segment into experts in home improvement so customers get the answers they need every time they walk in the doors of The Home Depot?

It requires committed associates, strong leaders, and innovative learning solutions.

The Home Depot offers innovative professional development programs for our hourly associates – many of whom are part-time and don’t have the time or the desire to consume lengthy learning solutions. We reach over 40,000 associates each year via our Distance Learning classes that build competence and confidence in areas such as merchandising, selling skills, operations, etc. The speed, reach and consistency achieved with this delivery platform have served our associates and customers well.

In addition to equipping our hourly associates with the skills needed to be successful, we also need to develop strong leaders.

Cultivating and Supporting Effective Leaders

The vast majority of first line leaders at The Home Depot are promoted from the ranks of the hourly associate base. They are excellent at serving customers and have extensive product knowledge. But they may never have come into contact with a store P&L or had the responsibility of motivating a team.

Putting them in a position to lead others - many of whom are their peers and friends – without the necessary leadership and business training would be setting them up to fail.

We created Home Depot University to develop leaders who serve their teams and create an environment where associates want to work and customers want to shop. We created Fundamentals to give leaders foundational survival skills training within the first 90 days of their new role.

After Fundamentals, leaders continue to build effectiveness through other learning solutions. We have introduced two programs that support our goal of developing strong leaders. Both are custom learning programs developed by one of our University partners, Bellevue University, and both offer college credit.

The first is a 36-credit-hour learning program in Professional Retail Management (PRM) that combines current academic concepts in retail management with Home Depot specific context, examples and assignments. The program is for Home Depot associates only so participants create and maintain strong networks with fellow associates from across the company PRM stands alone as a certificate or associates can build on the 36 hours to earn a bachelor’s degree. They can also leverage tuition assistance to help pay for this unique learning opportunity.

Because associates can apply what they learn immediately, almost all of the graduates report vastly improved confidence. Many PRM graduates have been promoted to new jobs within our company.

“I learned so much about the business of retail. I’m a lot more confident when I’m talking about merchandising, when I’m talking about financials – and when I’m training and coaching associates. Now I look at the store differently – the concepts I learned from PRM I take back to my team so we can apply them real time. ”

– Chris Wilson, PRM Graduate and District Manager at The Home Depot

Support for the First Rung on the Leadership Ladder

A new leadership program just launched by The Home Depot is DS-LEAD. This program was developed specifically for Department Supervisors to give them a greater ability to impact store success. Department Supervisors play a critical role in our company. In addition to overseeing businesses within our stores, they help set the tone for customer service and are responsible for building and leading effective teams.

DS-LEAD is a short education program from Bellevue University and consists of two college courses in business acumen and leadership skills. Like PRM, its foundation is leading edge business management concepts contextualized to The Home Depot. Just launched last fall, Bellevue University and The Home Depot worked very hard to make this program affordable and accessible to all of our Department Supervisors because we believe that, like PRM, it will have a huge impact on the confidence and acumen of our first line managers.

Comments from DSs in our first class indicate that it will.

“I was taught so much that I have been able to use in my day-to-day operations. My whole outlook on leadership has changed. Using real-life scenarios made it easier for me to make the transition from school to work.”

– Robert Carter, DS-LEAD graduate and Department Supervisor at The Home Depot

Keys to Learning Programs that Create Business Impact

At The Home Depot our learning team is focused on creating confidence and empowerment through knowledge so that we can better take care of our associates and customers.

There are four key steps that support our vision.

1. Define the problem. Identify issues that are getting in the way of our associate’s ability to take care of our customers and each other and go after those.

2. Choose the ‘right’ solution. Understand the environment our audience is operating in so we can develop solutions that are relevant and will be executed in the way they are intended.

3. Clearly articulate the outcomes expected and delivered. Each of our learning programs has clearly stated outcomes. It’s the only way we know – and our leaders know – that we are making a difference.

4. Work with solid partners to help bring the strategy to life. We are fortunate to work with a partner like Bellevue University who has the business acumen and flexibility to create custom programs for us.

Finally, while the business impact of our learning programs is essential to The Home Depot, our associates are at the center of every decision we make and every action we take. Along with evaluation metrics, we know that we have the opportunity to enhance the lives of our associates. They are able to earn a college degree, learn how to be effective learners, leaders and coaches and feel an overall sense of fulfillment that makes their world richer.

Michelle A. Thompson is Director, Learning, at Home Depot University

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds