Monday, October 07, 2013

Why Wal-Mart Is A Great Place To Work (and your workplace should be too!)

This is not a pro/anti post about Wal-Mart.   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, Wal-Mart remains the largest corporation in the world. 

Amidst all the noise from Talking Head  Pundits caterwauling about the human resource practices of this corporation, Wal-Mart 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 Wal-Mart 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 Wal-Mart work so well when other organizations were so lumbering? 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 Wal-Mart into a open warehouse of relief supplies.   In Mississippi, one employee manger 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 Wal-Mart 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 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 Wal-Mart culture.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Stale Cookies: Girl Scouts Dump Aged Staff In Attempt To "Youthanize"

Plummeting membership, onerous liabilities, fraught collaborations, and rebellious

chapters continue to plague the Girl Scouts Of America (GSUSA) and their latest CEO Anna Maria Chávez. Having just celebrated their 100th anniversary, the organization grapples with a tangled set of financial and image problems leading to accelerating decay to an iconic American institution.

The fiscal picture has become so dire that the national headquarters slashed 85 positions....over 25% of their 326 employees. Factors in the move were not only to reduce head count, but also to modernize the organization by offering buyouts to 45 employees aged 55 and older.

Girl Scouts of America has struggled in past decade to remain relevant in the face of societal changes. But some attempts to modernize have backfired,  such as its partnership with Planned Parenthood in order to provide sex education materials to Girl Scout chapters. While GSUSA has tried to downplay such allegations, critics point to a 2004 video of former CEO Kathy Cloninger admitting on the Today Show saying: “We partner with many organizations. We have relationships with our church communities, with YWCAs, and with Planned Parenthood organizations across the country, to bring information-based sex education programs to girls.” Shortly thereafter came the precipitous decline in Girl Scout membership, now down over 20% in the past decade.

The decay in membership has exacerbated an already shaky pension system. Much like public school districts, generous promises coupled with declining revenues have forced GSUSA to raise pension contributions of local districts by 200-300%. The pushback by local chapters has moved to the courts where the Middle Tennessee chapter accused the national office of various breaches of fiduciary duty and financial mismanagement.

Such high profile actions have drawn the attention of Congress. One congressman called for an inquiry by the House Ways and Means Committee into the pension liabilities and the sale of camps. "I am worried that America's Girl Scouts are now selling cookies to fund pension plans instead of camping," wrote Rep. Bruce Braley, (D-Iowa), in a letter to the committee chairman.

Indeed, the shaky fiscal picture of national headquarters is resulting in greater pressure upon local chapters to bring in the revenue. This is generating dissent among parents. As one parent put it

Speaking as former Troop Leader, parents were frustrated by the high percentage of proceeds the Girl Scout franchise took from the Troops total cookie sales. In addition, the Troop had to buy the cookies in advance and got stuck with dozens of cases of cookies that did not sell during the allotted time. So for many Troops the cookie sale became a never ending fundraising campaign for busy working parents.

Despite the controversy, Girl Scouts retain a loyalty from parents.
"I care so much about this organization, and that's why I hate to see it pulled down," said Suellen Nelles, CEO of a local council based in Fairbanks, Alaska. "We have leadership at the top who are toxic to this organization and need to go."