walmartThere was an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal on Saturday, September 5th titled, “Walmart Tests Upskilling.” The article describes, in great detail, a new program to train its workers. In fact, it’s actually their first program to train front-line workers. Let me repeat that again, because it’s worth emphasizing. This is the first time Walmart is formally training their front-line workers how to do their jobs!   In the past, Walmart’s workers were trained through informal floor level guidance from a peer or manager. My first thought is: Well that goes a long way to explaining why my experiences shopping at Walmart were so unsatisfactory.   My second (and perhaps more important) thought is that until this program Walmart and many other organization’s business models assumed low employee engagement, low morale and high turnover. Training for front-line workers, especially when there are large numbers of employees, has always taken a back seat to a churn and burn mentality.  Management assumes that this is the only course of action because, in this model, employee motivation and engagement are the problem and the business model is robust.   This has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When an organization treats people as if they are going to leave by paying them poorly (Walmart is making an effort to correct this, but most aren’t), gives them rigid schedules and shows that they aren’t worth even a minimal investment in development, employees get the message that they are not valued and leave. Management then becomes convinced that their business model, based on worker abuse and churn is the only reasonable model.   As the WSJ article points out, it’s a penny-wise, pound-foolish model. Cost savings from lack of investment and minimal pay are offset by increased costs of turnover and more importantly, lost customer loyalty. Further, there is overwhelming evidence that investing in people can break the vicious cycle. At least Walmart is attempting to break the cycle.   So how can Walmart and any other organization that has institutionalized turnover in its business model make this work? It’s quite simple. The organization needs to fully recognize that fundamental changes are required to go from a negative model of employees to a model of treating employees like assets.   Unfortunately, I doubt that Walmart’s program will be successful. If employees are getting some training, and their management team is still treating them as expendable, it probably won’t work. If the training experiences themselves don’t engage the workers, they aren’t likely to have much impact. My suspicion is that these two factors will torpedo any large company’s front-line program and the company will revert back to its usual model.   What do you think? Will Walmart succeed?  ]]>

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