Career Stories

How This HR Exec is Making Her Company a Great Place to Work

Michelle Hairston, the senior vice president and chief human resources officer at PulteGroup
Michelle Hairston, Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at PulteGroup

These days, 16 years at the same company is practically unheard of—but Michelle Hairston would have it no other way. She first joined PulteGroup, an Atlanta-based homebuilding company, as a regional HR manager back in 2003, and six (yes, six!) promotions later is now Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer. Big picture, she’s responsible for the human resources strategy across the organization, and employees reap the rewards of her hard work through a top-notch benefits program and plenty of opportunity to continuously learn and grow.

We asked Hairston what’s kept her at the company for almost two decades, why it’s so important to focus on employee development, and what she looks for in PulteGroup candidates.

You’ve been at PulteGroup for more than 16 years. What is it about the company that keeps you there?

As a first-generation American, it’s so exciting to be part of a company that helps people realize the American dream of homeownership. We were recognized as Great Place to Work-Certified™ Company this year, and I’m incredibly proud that we foster a high-trust culture, which inspires employees to bring their best to work. This drives our success and is rooted in our fundamental value of always doing the right thing. It’s empowering to see the pride that our team takes in their work and the support we all share in helping each other grow.

What are you responsible for in your role?

I am responsible for developing and executing the human resource strategy in support of the overall business plan and strategic direction of the organization for our approximately 5,000 employees across the country. This includes talent acquisition and management, learning and organizational development, employee engagement and culture, leadership development and succession planning, benefits, and compensation.

How does PulteGroup invest in the success of its employees?

All of our development programs, tools, and training resources are designed to make our employees feel connected to one another, learn and grow in their work, and make ongoing contributions to the performance of the company. It all starts with our onboarding program, Breaking Ground, which provides a consistent, efficient, measurable, and sustainable process to make new hires feel welcome and supported. Mentorship is another a crucial component of our team, with every employee being assigned a mentor when they join the PulteGroup team. We also have ongoing and award-winning team training programs in sales, field construction, and customer care functions to further develop their skills and ensure they are on a path bound for success.

Why is a strong employee-training program so important?

Through continued talent development and mentorship, our employees are more likely to take pride in what they do and feel connected to our purpose of creating incredible places for people to live their dreams. We see this success demonstrated in our employee engagement scores that place us in the top 5% of all companies in the world (as measured by Gallup in 2020).

What benefits do employees get especially excited about?

We empower our people to reach their goals at home as much as we do at work, which is reflected in our holistic health approach that focuses on physical, emotional, financial, and social wellness needs. As part of our commitment to building a healthy company culture, PulteGroup participates in the Global Corporate Challenge, a wellness competition that promotes good health through physical activity and provides motivation through both corporate and global competition. With an added focus on work-life balance, we also offer enhanced paid and unpaid leave of absence, including expanded maternity and paternity leave, time off for volunteering, adoption assistance, and scholarships services. And our Making Lives Better Employee Assistance Program was established after Hurricane Harvey to help employees and their families immediately in times of unexpected need.

What is the Built to Honor program, and how can employees participate in it?

PulteGroup’s Built to Honor program was launched in 2013 to recognize and thank our country’s servicemen and women injured during their term of service. Each Built to Honor home is sponsored by a division, and employees work with generous trade partners, suppliers, and donors to build and award brand-new mortgage-free homes to deserving veterans and their families. In living our promise to “make lives better,” this program gives PulteGroup employees the opportunity to thank our nation’s heroes for their commitment to defending our country and the freedoms we hold so dear by doing what we do best. Today, we have built and awarded more than 50 new mortgage-free homes.

What is one of your favorite memories of participating in Built to Honor?

Earlier this year with our San Antonio team, I had the opportunity to meet with our veteran recipient, U.S. Army Sergeant First Class (Ret.) Tara Hutchinson. She had just seen her home for the first time and gave me the first tour. Words simply cannot describe how meaningful it was to see the excitement in Tara’s eyes and hear her big plans for the next chapter of her life. It was incredible to see this American hero realize the dream she had fought to protect and know that we had a role in making it possible.

What other ways can employees give back to its communities?

Starting with sustainability, we are actively integrating new building practices that reduce the eco-footprint of our homes and communities. Additionally, our employees regularly volunteer services and financial assistance to benefit several organizations. One of my favorite community partnerships is with the Children’s Home Network in Tampa, Florida. Since 2016, we have raised more than $430,000 to successfully fund the renovation of the Children’s Home Network vocational center that houses a residential treatment program for children who are victims of abuse, neglect, and abandonment. The building was renamed and dedicated as the Pulte Promise Center.

Besides checking off specific job requirements, what qualities does your team look for in talent at PulteGroup?

Our success and culture are driven by our great teams and employees. That starts with having the best people who have the right attitude and aptitude. We seek out goal-oriented professionals who are creators, leaders, and share our core value of always doing the right thing. Our most successful employees care about quality, show compassion for our customers, have a team-first mentality, and are accountable.

How do you approach recruiting with diversity in mind at PulteGroup?

The more diversity we have, in all of its forms, the stronger we are as team and business, which is why we have made it a priority to embrace diversity and cultivate a culture of inclusion. Beyond just being the right thing to do, this mindset ensures we have the opportunity to attract and welcome the best talent. We continue to focus on leadership development and retention to bolster our talent pipeline and have expanded our diversity and inclusion training portfolio. We also encourage and value candidates from all industries and backgrounds. As long as they have a passion for what we do, we can teach them the rest and develop talent with diverse career paths within PulteGroup.