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Lessons From Home Depot's Bob Nardelli--Why Command And Control Is So Bad.

Riffing With Bruce. |


| Wal-Mart Is In Deep Trouble--Ask Its Customers.

January 04, 2007

Lessons From Home Depot's Bob Nardelli--Why Command And Control Is So Bad.

Bruce Nussbaum

I just got back from a long stay in Sante Fe to gather my thoughts on innovation and design to see what I consider to be one of the great enemies of innovation--Home Depot's CEO Bob Nardelli--bite the dust. Nardelli is a classic, GE-trained Six Sigma, command-and-control CEO and he imposed his mechanical process on a company that was known for its great fuzzy-front-end, pro-consumer culture. At a time when companies are learning that they are in the business of building tools to empower customers to create their own, personal products and services, Home Depot was literally in that space decades ago. It faltered and brought in a systems guy--trained in 1990s GE--and made the classic mistake that other companies make. Unfortunately, the new guy replacing Nardelli is another GE-alumnus. Let's hope he's more like Jeff Immelt than Nardelli.

Nardelli came into Home Depot with a managerial style that was already obsolete and being replaced at GE by Immelt with his emphasis on eco-imagination. Autocratic top-down, command and control works great when you focus on process--cost and quality. Six Sigma measures all that stuff wonderfully. Nardelli couldn't see beyond this. He hired dozens of command-and-control military guys to manage. He shifted Home Depot away from retail to a new contracting business that could more easily be controlled and measured. He was comfortable with this low-margin, wholesale business because it fit into his managerial style. When you live by measurement and numbers, that's what you build--things you can easily measure--such as whole contracting operations. Nardelli gutted the retail side by cutting the great, knowledgeable salespeople who were so helpful to customers. Seth Godin gets it right when he says that consumer complaints about Home Depot soared under Nardelli. He alienated his customers, his employees and ultimately, his shareholders, who were infuriated at Nardelli's huge compensation while the stock languished. Nardelli's arrogant behavior at the last annual meeting seemed to seal his fate. His compliant board which gave him so much money despite that lagging stock price, finally bought him out with an outrageous package. They really should be following Nardelli out the door themselves.

The truth is that in the new global businss culture, process controls and metrics are critical to any big company but they are now sediment, one of the things that is commoditized and laid down on the corporate structure to make way for the discipline and process of innovation. Immelt gets this at GE. But the graduates of GE who learned their management styles in the 90s often do not get it.

Partnering with your consumers, innovating with them, managing insights, raising the level of risk-taking, pursuing high-margin, new products, leading collectively and through example--these are some of the traits for 21st century CEOs. Nardelli had few of them. It's time for Home Depot to get back to its DNA before it's too late. Another round of 20th century GEism and the company will get sold to the private equity guys.

03:41 PM

innovation management

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Why Command and Control is So Bad from Dissident

Bruce Nussbaum at Business Week has written an article entitled Lessons from Home Depot's Bob Nardelli - Why Command and Control is So Bad. Now here's a lesson from the private sector which could easily be applied to Government; autocratic [Read More]

Tracked on January 14, 2007 11:45 AM

Bob Nardelli: “I want an autopsy!” from Leading Blog: A Leadership Blog @ LeadershipNow

As you know, after a board meeting on January 2nd, Home Depot announced the following day that the company and Bob Nardelli had "mutually agreed" that he would resign. Business Week reported, “As the news of his resignation on Jan.... [Read More]

Tracked on January 19, 2007 08:49 AM

Excellent article Bruce,

Methodologies like Six Sigma are perfect in production and manufacturing. But a manufacturing process is NOT a Business process. Simply because humans are not machines. A good product is a product which helps its owner to climb in the Maslow's pyramid. Now, take this assertion and try to define metrics allowing to verify that your product is significantly helpful for this purpose!..

Once defined, try to apply Six Sigma DMAIC methodology on all the data you have collected.

You will find the conclusion by yourself:

Intuition is a much more powerful tool.

Posted by: Georges de Wailly at January 6, 2007 02:27 PM

Bob must have lived in a parallel universe according to me. Today a lot people (private, bloggers, press, organisations etc) would like to have a second opinion about how a company is acting. You cannot just put your head in the sand...

Posted by: David Carlson at January 6, 2007 10:46 PM

Hey Bruce, I looked back at our cover story on him and was intrigued by the subhead:

Skip the touchy-feely stuff. The big-box store is thriving under CEO Bob Nardelli's military-style rule

Looks like there's a good point-counterpoint brewing in here.

Posted by: steve baker at January 8, 2007 04:45 PM


The headline aside, that March, 2006 article suggested that all was not well at Home Depot. Performance was stalled and he was creating a culture of fear, in fact, as I wrote on my blog, I hope that one reason he was fired was that the board had enough and was enforcing "the no asshole rule."

In any event, this quote from the March 2006 article does not sound like a CEO who was doing a great job, and it sounds to me like bad headline rather than a counterpoint.

" BusinessWeek spoke with 11 former executives, a majority of whom requested anonymity lest the company sue them for violating nondisclosure agreements. Some describe a demoralized staff and say a "culture of fear" is causing customer service to wane. Nardelli's own big-time pay package, $28.5 million for the year ended Jan. 30, 2005, rubs many workers the wrong way. His guaranteed bonus, the only locked-in payout at the company, rose to $5.8 million in 2004, from $4.5 million in 2003, at a time when Home Depot's stock price finished below its yearend price in 2000, when Nardelli took over."

Posted by: Bob Sutton at January 10, 2007 11:04 PM

Well seen and well said. The big press issue about Nardelli, of course, is the severance package, but the real issue is as you pointed out, the C&C model.

Put another way, the 90s ethos was heavily influenced by the still-new discovery of BPR, ERP, and by increasingly widespread IT capabilities.

These, in combination with the command and control style, combined to have another resurgence (they seem periodic) of the belief that everything can be reduced to linear, logical, "scientific" systems. (You can tell these people, they're the ones who look to physics as the paradigm and who are admirers of B.F. Skinner).

All those techniques worked very well when applied to materials flows and supply chains. They began to fall flat when applied to the front end of business, which unfortunately contains human beings.

The result of this kind of behavioral and mechanistic thinking: not only Nardelli, but CRM systems, automated answering systems, and so-called "loyalty" programs whose model is the prize in a cracker jacks box.

Command and control still has its place (though the customer- and employee-facing parts of large consumer companies are not among them). But the belief that humans can or ought to be managed like so much cold-rolled steel inventory is alive and well in more places than Home Depot, and needs rooting out.

Thanks for an excellent post.

Posted by: Charles H. Green at January 15, 2007 03:57 AM

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