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Walmart's new workplace: Gold Stars, attitude cards and cheers

Bloomberg logoBloomberg 5/2/2019 Matthew Boyle

Walmart wants to change how its work gets done.

The nation’s biggest private employer is testing out a comprehensive new framework for how its stores operate, including changing some roles and responsibilities and emphasizing teamwork, accountability and skill improvement. The new model, dubbed “Great Workplace,” is already in place in about 75 locations, primarily its smaller Neighborhood Market grocery stores, and will expand to certain departments in more than 50 of its massive supercenter locations next month.

The new model will include pay raises for some hourly and salaried supervisors, who will shoulder more leadership responsibility in return. Staffers lower on the totem pole will receive more training, additional support from managers and better recognition for jobs well done.

“Associates like smaller teams, and they like having a connection with a leader. They want something they can own and to know if they are winning or losing every day. And today that does not always happen,” Drew Holler, U.S. senior vice president of associate experience, said in an interview.

The goal is to improve Walmart’s reputation as an employer, which has been under attack for decades from labor activists and has spawned a spate of lawsuits accusing the retailer of everything from gender and age discrimination to not paying employees during breaks in their shifts.

New Structure

Store managers remain at the top of the new structure, but under them will be about a half-dozen “Business Leads,” who will manage the store’s finances and all hiring efforts, among other duties. Their salaries will start about 10 percent higher than what assistant store managers currently make, according to a Walmart spokesman. Reporting to them will be “Team Leads,” whose pay starts at $18 an hour. They’ll supervise groups of eight to 10 front-line associates.

Supercenter locations will be comprised of about 15 to 20 teams, each with one “Academy Trainer,” who will work to “upskill” employees and make sure they “understand the correct way to perform their jobs,” according to internal documents viewed by Bloomberg. The role is a way to bring the company’s network of training academies, which today primarily teach only supervisors, to the rank and file.

Every store in the program will receive a “toolkit” with magnetic boards, used to assign employees individual responsibility -- Walmart calls it “ownership” -- for specific areas of the store, like the wall of prepackaged salads. The kit also includes “Attitude Cards” that managers will carry around with them during shifts, so they can remind staffers of the four behaviors promoted by the program: Be bold, be an owner, be open and be kind.

Gold Stars

Employees who perform well will earn “stars” -- multiple blue stars can be exchanged for a silver star, and silvers can lead to a gold. Those who get gold stars will receive a reward set by store leadership, which could include lunch with the store manager, according to the company documents. Some employees have bristled at the star system, calling it childish, and Walmart could make changes to that and other aspects of the program going forward, according to the Walmart spokesman.

Related: Walmart Expands ‘Returnship’ Program to Bring Moms Back to Work

Great Workplace also details how team meetings should be run, starting with the Walmart company cheer and moving on to review sales data and discuss assigned work. The documents also suggest to “bring a bag of candy and toss a piece to those who bring up ideas discussed in meetings.”

Walmart is addressing its workforce issues at the same time it’s adding robots to perform repetitive tasks like cleaning floors and sorting deliveries in the backroom. The company has said the automation will not replace human workers; rather, it will free them up to interact more with customers.

“We will compete with technology but win with people,” Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon said in internal documents viewed by Bloomberg laying out the new structure.

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