Conscient Leaders: Interview with Michelle Hairston
In our latest Conscient Leaders interview, we talk with Michelle Hairston, CHRO of one of the largest home builders in the country, to get insight on how organizations can navigate the ups and downs of turbulent times.
Read the full transcipt below.
Hi everybody, welcome to our next edition of Conscient Leaders. I’m so excited to be joined here with my friend, Michelle Hairston. For those of you who are just getting up to speed, Conscient Leaders is our Conscient Strategies fun conversations—we love talking with leaders around the country and the world about what is going on in their neck of the woods and what they’re learning on a day-to-day basis about their own leadership and their organization’s growth. So today I’m super excited to introduce you to Michelle Hairston. She is the CHRO at Pulte Homes. Michelle, do you want to tell us a little bit about Pulte and your position?
Sure, thanks Hannah, nice to see you. I work with PulteGroup, we’re one of the nation’s largest home builders. We are the oldest home builder, founded in 1950, and we’ve built over 750,000 homes. And I’m the CHRO, so I lead our HR team and our talent strategy and how we bring in great talent, develop great talent, plan for succession, and many other things in that space.
Everybody talks about, “2020 was the bumpy ride.” I always love to look at, what was one of the things you were most proud of as you kind of went through the turbulence of 2020?
Yeah. You know, 2020, and I dare say 2021 will be very similar in this regard and you know, what I think I’m most proud of for myself, but also with the leaders I work with at Pulte is there was no playbook for anything we experienced in 2020. Market condition changes, pandemic, the civil rights movement kind of re-emerging and social injustice coming into the workplace like it never has before. I mean, any one of those things I think would have been a major event. And all three of those—and then some—in a year, that there’s really no play for [that]. I’m most proud of how we leaned into our guiding principles, stayed true to kind of our North Star of what we put in…important in our values in our company, how we want people to make decisions, and how we really leaned in to empathy, to communication, to transparency. When sometimes I think it’s really hard to say, “I don’t know.” And we didn’t back off of the fact that we didn’t have the answers to a lot of things. But that we were engaged in trying to figure out the best solutions, keeping safety first, our employees first, and really working through our guiding principles as our North Stars for our decision-making.
I would imagine that really fostering culture within your organization over the last year has been one of the other challenges. What have you guys been doing to do that, as you have teams all over, and helping everybody else align to your values?
I think this has been one of the biggest challenges and will remain one of the biggest challenges as I think people’s expectation around what work looks like will be forever changed post-pandemic. And I think for us, what we really focused on was connection and communication. So, constant communication with our leadership teams, daily calls, weekly calls, individual check-ins, just saying, “Hey, I know we’re struggling. What do we need to do to, what are you hearing from people?”, you know, is what we did. Is it landing the way we wanted it to land and get really active two-way communication on what’s happening with the priorities of the organization or how we’re trying to move things forward. I think the second piece on an individual basis is ensuring there’s connection. How are managers connecting with our employees, how are employees connecting with each other? So much of our culture has been based on Bill Pulte and how he founded the company, and it being really family first and employee first. And so making sure that in the pace of play and the hecticness of navigating through the pandemic and the market environment, that really just took off in home building, that we stayed true to making the time to check in with each other.
As we look to 2021, we know that in as much as we’re all hoping for a bit of a calmer year, we can expect that it won’t be—it just won’t be. So what is a piece of advice you would leave with people today?
I think my big word for the year last year was “empathy.” And I think it holds true for 2021. I think we all need to have empathy and patience with ourselves. I think we need to have empathy and patience with what our team members are experiencing. And I think we need to lead with empathy every day, to appreciate that whether people are struggling with pandemic, health concerns, whether they’re struggling with childcare concerns, managing virtual schooling—which is an unbelievable feat—or struggling with coming to terms with some of the racial injustices and systematic, social unrest and different things that have kind of come to the forefront. And I think helped people see things differently last year, that it’s important to keep empathy front and center and to really ensure that you’re listening, that you’re open to hearing different perspectives, and that you’re making the time to connect.
That’s great. Thank you so much, Michelle. We truly appreciate all the genius that you’ve brought to the table today.
Thank you. Nice to see you Hannah.
About Pulte Homes:
PulteGroup, based in Atlanta, Georgia, is one of America’s largest homebuilding companies with operations in more than 40 markets throughout the country. Through its brand portfolio that includes Centex, Pulte Homes, Del Webb, DiVosta Homes, American West and John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods, the company is one of the industry’s most versatile homebuilders able to meet the needs of multiple buyer groups and respond to changing consumer demand. PulteGroup’s purpose is building incredible places where people can live their dreams. Learn more at pulte.com.
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