At Walmart, growth is about more than just the numbers

Laptop opened up with Walmart logo and the text, Save money. Live better.

Image source: Adobe stock/monticellllo.

By Kelly Olson

Posted on 06-15-2021

Walmart continues to lead as Fortune 1 for the ninth year in a row — as the world’s largest company by revenue earning $559 billion in its most recent fiscal year. It’s also the biggest private employer on the planet, with more than 2.2 million associates. But for Walmart executive vice president and chief people officer, Donna Morris, the company still has some growing up to do.

Morris recently sat down with Adobe executive vice president and general manager, Anil Chakravarthy, to discuss Walmart’s mammoth transformation in response to COVID-19, and the crucial role that digital technologies continue to play as it modernizes its customer experience, employee culture, and purpose for a digital economy.

The conversation took place as part of this week’s Adobe Experience Makers Government Forum. At a time when people expect the highest standard of digital experience from every organization they engage with, the event brought together leaders from the private and public sector to inspire each other with stories of their digital transformation and insights into their future plans.

Growth through customer experiences

For Morris, Walmart’s purpose is clear. “Our aim is to be a digital retailer that helps people save money so they can live better,” she says. As the organization continues to transform and adapt to the realities of a post-COVID world, it is doubling down on its digital retail operations, becoming an online marketplace for a global community of vendors, and empowering its workforce to better serve customers.

The scale of Walmart’s operation is staggering. The business serves 220 million customers per week, more than the entire population of Brazil. What’s more, it does so through a brand network that spans 24 markets and counting. Its team of 2.2 million has also continued to serve these regions at scale and across platforms through every stage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Looking back at Walmart’s transformation over the past 12 months, Morris attributes some of the company’s growth and success to its ability to pivot quickly and lean on its digital capabilities.

The company moved all of its campus office associates — those who work above store level — to virtual work, supported by digital technologies. “We needed to make sure our teams could collaborate and be productive,” Morris says.

Walmart also reimagined the role of its front line teams and the toolkits they use to do their jobs. Early in the pandemic, Walmart brought on more than 500,000 new associates through a reimagined hiring process that shortened the time to hire from 14 days to 24 hours. It also adapted its personal shopping experience to digital customers, growing its team of digital shoppers to more than 157,000 individuals dedicated to meeting demand for curbside pickup and deliveries.

Growth through employee enablement

In her role as chief people officer, Morris is also responsible for attracting, retaining and nurturing talent across Walmart’s global business. Many organizations only focus on customer and stakeholder concerns when they talk of “going digital,” but at Walmart the employee experience has always been top-of-mind.

“We’ve all changed the way we live our lives,” says Morris, adding that Walmart put much of its energy into enabling front-line associates with new digital technologies so they could work productively in the face of unprecedented demand and fast-paced change. As part of this, the company is providing more than 740,000 digital devices for its in-store employees to help them navigate stock and deliver on customer expectations.

At the same time, Walmart is committed to the health, safety, and wellness of its employees. That goes for its campus office associates, who were given the flexibility and tools to work remotely once the pandemic began, and for its front-line teams, who were given additional support and structured to serve customers through more efficient, touchless experiences. And with the fight against COVID-19 continuing in many of the markets Walmart serves, health and safety remain a top focus area for its leadership.

Morris is committed to digitizing Walmart’s employee experience across the board. Whether associates join the company as their first job or later in their professional lives, she wants them to see Walmart as a place where they can climb the ladder of opportunity, and where they’ll be part of a cutting-edge environment.

Growth through diversity

Morris leads a number of initiatives across Walmart, but the company’s march towards greater diversity and representation is one of the closest to her heart. “The past year has been very challenging for individuals everywhere, and here in the US the tragic death of George Floyd was something we all saw play out together,” she says. “This environment further underscored our efforts to drive racial equity,” she adds, emphasizing Walmart’s focus on inclusivity and transparency.

Transparency is the key to accountability for Morris. That’s why instead of just releasing figures on its representation once per year and meeting the bare minimum, she and her team make these figures public every six months. “It’s important for our employees to see this information, but also for our customers,” Morris says.

Walmart has also set up shared value networks to foster discussions around racial equity, focusing on four key areas where challenges still need to be addressed: education, financial, healthcare, and the criminal justice system. Walmart has put its money where its mouth is on this front, setting up the Walmart.org Center for Racial Equity and designating $100 million to invest in programs that aim to address drivers of systemic racism in today’s society.

“All companies have more work to do internally around people practices, transparency and accountability,” says Morris, referencing research that Walmart conducted in partnership with McKinsey around representation in the workplace.

Through education and learning, Walmart hopes to help drive positive change from the inside out, in addition to expanding its efforts outside the business.

Growing in new directions

Walmart is a 60-year-old business, but its evolution in response to the COVID-19 pandemic proves that its boardroom and employees are firmly focused on the future. “We think of ourselves as a growth-oriented business,” says Morris, hinting at even more digital services and innovation to come.

Specifically, Walmart is pushing four key priorities. Leading the way is the further digital transformation of a business empowered by technology and led by people. In parallel, Walmart is focusing on the growth and development of its associates, upskilling its workforce to bring digital initiatives to life. Just as importantly, Walmart is building on its diversity and inclusion programs, combining education and transparency to continue driving progress.

Finally, the company has made employee well-being a top priority. “In a post-pandemic world, the first thing we consider is the health, safety, and well-being of our associates,” says Morris. Unlike most of the workforce, Walmart’s associates continued to work throughout the pandemic, putting themselves out there so that customers could get the products and services they needed during a trying time. Digital technologies played a central role in making that possible, and will only grow in importance as Walmart continues to grow in new directions.

Register for Adobe Experience Makers Government Forum for free to watch the keynote on demand.

Topics: Customer Stories, Retail, Experience Cloud,

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