We haven’t shared an “Inside the Executive Suite” piece from Armada Executive Intelligence in some time. We’re happy to have them back today with an article adapted from a newsletter they published on a leadership training program Walmart is rolling out in its US stores. The original Wall Street Journal story provided the basis for the folks at Armada to translate the Walmart situation to other organizations. (Note: If you want to learn more about the Armada Executive Intelligence Brief system and get in on this great publication for an incredibly low monthly rate, please visit the Armada website.)
Walmart and the Impact of Leadership Training
(via Armada Executive Intelligence)
Is your organization better off with employees that are better off because they work for your organization?
We would expect most C-suite leaders think this is true. Various factors, however, such as costs, regulations, perceived employee indifference, cultural barriers and other issues can stop leaders from acting as if they believe better off employees are better for their organization.
Walmart, a brand often immersed in debates about poor employee treatment, is piloting new training for both front-line employees and in-store managers. A Wall Street Journal story covered the Walmart “Pathways” initiative; in select stores currently, its roll out is planned across US Walmart stores by early 2016.
The Pathways training includes brief online modules supported by in-person reinforcement from department managers. Its curriculum includes job fundamentals for frontline employees plus strategic issues, such as the Walmart position in the economy. Department managers are receiving training, greater authority, and latitude to manage their department teams. There is also enhanced accountability for performance and results.
Long-term, Walmart hopes to create a retail industry certification as another leadership training benefit for employees. Achieving certification would demonstrate employee knowledge, competency, and employment potential both within Walmart and for other retailers seeking strong candidates.
Leadership Training Implications for Your Organization
While the average brand does not deal with issues at the scale Walmart does, the Pathways initiative suggests several leadership training possibilities at smaller organizations facing comparable issues.
There is a New Need Emerging for Frontline Employee Training
While the article mentions public relations benefits from this initiative, it does not mention training modules on customer interactions in the age of social media.
Previously, it could be a challenge to provide media relations training to executives interacting with the press. Now, with every smartphone-enabled customer having the potential to be an in-store reporter spreading unflattering messages about a brand, the importance of cursory media relations training for frontline employees is dramatic.
No matter an organization’s size, employees interacting with customers need to know how to manage potentially negative situations before they reach popular social networks and run the risk of spreading widely.
Consider Employee Lifetime Value
Customer Lifetime Value is an oft-mentioned concept, even if it is easier to reference than to calculate. The idea of customer lifetime value involves the benefits (relative to the costs) of a customer’s buying relationship with a brand. Understanding the lifetime value accurately helps brands make good decisions on when and how to invest in customer relationships.
Quantifying the impact of employee training relative to retention moves lifetime value into a different realm. An exercise to estimate employee lifetime value is beneficial for any brand. Beyond training and retention, however, a business could also evaluate how employees benefit the organization through their roles in customer retention, carrying out aligned brand behaviors, and reinforcing positive messaging among friends and members of the public.
Boosting the Value of Starting a Career with Your Organization
The Walmart retail certification warrants pondering how other businesses could follow suit.
With a shortage of skilled workers, there is greater benefit in being a preferred employer. This has motivated emergence of “employer branding” in recent years. While employer branding can be misconstrued as slick advertising promoting a business as an incredible place to work, it should actually focus on how a brand exchanges value with its employees. If the value exchange is more compelling with one organization than another, there is an advantage to employees. If the retail certification takes hold and becomes a gateway to more attractive future positions (whether inside Walmart or elsewhere), it makes Walmart a more attractive employer, as it would any company offering a recognized certification.
Within your own organization, are there opportunities to create a certification that directly benefits your employees, your brand, and makes it easier to attract the appropriately skilled people you need for success?
Strategically Smarter Employees See Improvement Opportunities
We advocate for considering all employees playing strategic roles. That does not mean everyone determines and forms strategy. However, it does suggest the value of all employees having enough of a big picture understanding of the organization, its customers, markets, and competitors to see what they do and the environment in which they do it in a strategic context.
By incorporating training in fundamentals, brand culture, and marketplace trends, Walmart is smart. This training accentuates the likelihood of an employee seeing his or her role as part of something bigger and important.
Frontline employees having a stronger sense of the organizational and industry big picture prepares them to better assess both positives and negatives in current processes. Instead of simply knowing something is working or not, strategic frontline employees can provide valuable feedback on early warning signs when strategy that appears fantastic in the boardroom is not working in the field.
Documenting the Knowledge of Tenured Workers
We have written previously on capturing knowledge of tenured workers before they leave – either through retirements or layoffs. With Walmart, its experienced department managers and senior employees had already been providing in-person training for employees. It was primarily oral tradition, however, with little emphasis on a formal process within or across stores.
If a brand involves its most experienced employees as primary resources for developing training, it benefits from a potentially more efficient way to document the tips, tricks, and heuristics its frontline management develops but rarely shares broadly or formally.
Are You Doing Enough with Frontline Leadership Training?
Your organization does not have to be as big as Walmart to see benefits from stronger frontline training. Even if you can do a better job on just a couple of these opportunities, you could be in a great position to document, with a high degree of certainty, that your brand IS better off with “better off” employees. – Armada Executive Intelligence
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