EXPLORING A CHANGE IN STORE OPERATIONS – WALMART

Walmart is currently conducting analysis at some of its store locations to explore new ways to make changes in its in-store operations.  Current data collection and analysis at the testing sites involve employees at about 100 stores across the U.S.

Walmart is engaged in testing a new way to use its employees to better advantage, for the workers as well as the company and its customers.  The new organizational structure involves the in-store assistant managers and department managers at the testing sites.  At these locations, Walmart is asking these employees to apply for a smaller number of position openings that are higher-paid.  The new positions are structured around managing teams of workers, with titles such as business leads, team leads and academy trainers.  For the past year, Walmart has been making the effort to figure out better ways to control labor costs, keep workers longer and attract talent, while spending more to raise wages and expand training. The company spokesmen say, however, that the current work in changing operations isn’t aimed at cost savings, but, rather, at adapting its workforce to the shifting shopping habits that necessitate different responses from its employees.  The crux of the changes is aimed at giving more front-line decision-making power to people on the floor while at the same time giving good managers elevated roles.  In the test stores, for example, the workers are expected to help customers with requests that might include returning an item or changing a price, without the need for the multiple authorizations that are now required.  The store’s workers are also grouped into teams that communicate and complete tasks across shifts, so that there are easier ways to solve problems and maintain continuity until the task has been completed.  Drew Holler, a senior vice president for Walmart, has said: “That is probably the game-changer in this; we are pushing decisions down,” (ref WSJ).  The new team leaders manage multiple departments and a team that assists them in covering those.  Previously (and in the current configuration in other of Walmart stores), there was a manager for each department who was focused on completing tasks in a single department.  Thus, if a customer’s needs spanned a variety of departments, attending to the problem or other requests could be a lengthy and involved process with multiple department managers involved.  At this point in the test site work, the number of salaried managers has fallen, while the employee head counts have stayed steady or increased.  Holler reports that front-line workers are more engaged, both with their work and with the customers.  Once additional testing has been done with the new structure, Walmart will assess what it has learned from the experience and then determine whether the new operation will be rolled out in all of the company’s 4,600 U.S. stores.  The test is being conducted at Walmart’s Neighborhood Markets chain and its smaller super centers with several versions of the new approach, called “Great Workplace.”  The test is part of a larger operation to remake Walmart’s U.S. store workforce of more than one million employees as the company invests in new services to better compete in the e-commerce arena.  The company is also focused on using the new team structure to elevate the workers with better management skills and the ability to retain their teams and keep them happy.

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