This is not a pro/anti post about Walmart. You are free to shop there or not. But one cannot question the impact Sam Walton continues to have on the American landscape. Twenty years after his death, Walmart remains the largest corporation in the world.
Amidst all the noise from Talking Head Pundits caterwauling about the human resource practices of this corporation, Walmart remains a pretty good place to work. In fact, the hordes of applicants desiring to work there allows the company to be selective in their hiring.
|A very empowering tool|
One of the reasons Walmart is such a desirous place of employment is the emphasis upon decentralizing decision-making authority. Next time you see an associate on the floor with one of those hand held scanners, do know what they’re doing at that moment is determining how much product they should order from the warehouse. They factor in what is selling, what day of the week it is, and even consider their knowledge of weather forecasts – “We sold three umbrellas today, but the weekend report is for heavy rains. I best order 10 in the next shipment.”
A crowning moment for the company came in September 2005. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina while the government was dysfunctional and nonprofit relief agencies like the American Red Cross were barely functional, Wal-Mart was supplying refugees, first responders and even government officials with supplies needed to address the crisis.
Why did Walmart work so well when other organizations were so lumbering? Culture….an empowerment culture which trusted its employees to do the right thing. It all began days before the storm. As Katrina bore down on the gulf coast, CEO Lee Scott established the basic guiding principle and made sure it was communicated down the line to even the floor associates:
“A lot of you are going to have to make decisions above your level. Make the best decision that you can with the information that’s available to you at the time.”
In many communities, the Store Manager essentially turned Walmart into a open warehouse of relief supplies. In Mississippi, one employee manager plowed a bulldozer thru a back wall so that medical personnel could enter and raid the pharmacy for use in a makeshift clinic in town.
We need to bring that ethic into other organizations.
Last week I had a discussion with a woman in my church. She expressed frustration with her child’s school in a way illustrates why Walmart has a preferable work culture. Meeting after meeting with teachers inevitably ends with the parent, teacher and sometimes child understanding what needs to be done…..but first it must be sent up the chain of command for approval. The delays are lengthy. The end result often is some impenetrable explanation as to why it can’t be done.
We prattle on about ’employee empowerment’, yet research suggests 2/3rds of Americans feel little control over their work environment. We would do well to consider Walmart culture.