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Prominence vs. Significance

September 12, 2023

In 1978, Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank were let go from their jobs at Handy Dan Home Improvement Centers. They turned this setback into an amazing opportunity.

By June of 1979, they had dreamed up The Home Depot and opened its first two stores in Atlanta. 

Marcus and Blank were two very different personalities, but they worked together to achieve a common goal: “to provide [customers] with the products, services and knowledge they need to create the homes of their dreams.” They wanted to empower people to do home projects on their own, so they prioritized hiring skilled employees who could do more than just show a customer where a product was in the store—they could provide instruction on how to complete almost any home project!

Decades later, The Home Depot began to wander away from its core values and vision, so they hired Frank Blake as their new CEO to help right the ship. Shortly after he was given this new role, he flew down to have breakfast with founder Bernie Marcus to gain some wisdom and insight. Surprisingly, Marcus told him:

“I want you to remember this: You have a prominent role at Home Depot, but you do not have a significant role. The significant roles are held by the people who serve the customers every single day.”

In one simple statement, Marcus recounted the heartbeat behind The Home Depot’s original vision. In order to succeed as a business, they needed the most engaged, passionate, and competent front-facing employees. The Co-Founder believed those roles are more significant than the CEO’s to the success of the business.

OK, that’s a lot about Home Depot, but consider this question: Where does the magic of your organization happen? 

It might be the high school student taking orders at the counter at the fast food restaurant.

Maybe it’s the delivery driver bringing the package to the customer’s front door.

It could be the customer service representative answering the phone throughout the day to address every issue or question under the sun.

In your company, it might be the salesperson knocking on another door to get the product into another person’s hands.

For many medical providers, the front office assistant checking in patients for their appointments is critical to the patient experience.

I love leadership. I’ve written books for leaders, and I consult with C-level executives. I believe their roles are immensely important, but the best leaders understand, value, and place disproportionate value on the right people inside each organization.

Showing you value people can go a long way. John Templeton said, “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”

When you have the right perspective, you don’t have to pretend the front-line employees in your organization are important—because you know they truly are. In fact, they are more important than you. Your job is to lead, train, and support them to serve your customers well.

Here’s my encouragement to you today: Align your focus as an organization on these pivotal moments, experiences, and interactions with your customers. In doing so, you’ll elevate the importance of those individuals who are crucial to customer experience. 


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