Walmart in some 75 stores is piloting a new store-level management structure it's calling "Great Workplace," Bloomberg, and other media outlets, reported. Walmart didn't immediately respond to Retail Dive's request for comment.
The changes entail having smaller teams taking on more responsibility and getting more training, with pay jumps in hourly wages and salaries for supervisors, according to the report.
The new approach is now centered at the retail giant's Neighborhood Market grocery stores, which are smaller than its flagships and its supercenters, but next month will expand to certain departments at 50 of those larger locations, Bloomberg said.
Walmart, one of the nation's largest employers, has for a time now been in damage control mode when it comes to workplace issues, in an effort to undo years of bad press about low wages and difficult working conditions. Last year, the retail giant bumped its starting wages, instituted new training programs and has made it easier to advance to higher paying positions, although rivals Target and Costco's starting pay continues to outpace its $11-per-hour minimum. This year new incentives were also added for attendance, among other workforce initiatives.
The latest effort entails the hire of employees to work just under the store manager level, to help motivate and train store employees, according to the Bloomberg report. Such new "business leads" will take responsibility for finances and hiring, and earn 10% more than traditional assistant managers, while "team leads" reporting to them, whose hourly pay starts at $18, will oversee groups of employees of about 10 or so, Bloomberg said. Incentives like lunch with the boss are earned through the accumulation of gold stickers.
Such moves, which can foster a better workplace culture, are being seen more widely and across industries, in part to help retain workers and improve customer service, according to Kevin Johnson, a labor and employment law attorney at Florida law firm Johnson Jackson.
"When you ask what kind of culture people want to work in, it usually comes down to one in which their voices are heard, their work has meaning, they have the opportunity to learn and get promoted, and their managers are empowered to make decisions, help employees, and generally act rationally," he told Retail Dive in an email. "I don't have any inside information, but it sounds like Wal-Mart may be working on trying to improve the culture for the employees and improve its management performance at the same time. Pushing more responsibility down to hourly employees, improving training efforts for hourlies, giving them a voice, and giving them recognition are all strategies that have been used to try to improve workplace culture."
That's especially true at a time when workers are scarce and competition is fierce, according to branding strategist Brian Kelly, president of consultancy Brian Brands. "In order to protect higher end share [Walmart] needs to fix the People situation," he told Retail Dive in an email. "How it's structured and salaried is beyond my knowledge. I do know that my local [Walmart] has many more folks who seem to understand a shopper's expectations, they demonstrate a sense of urgency and desire to resolve an issue. And not send the shopper off to sort it on their own. Less than a half mile away is a Target that got remodeled about 9 months ago. It is kicking butt. And so Walmart is reacting."
Talented workers also can get expensive as they rise into the ranks, and Kelly said it sounds like Walmart is expanding responsibilities without paying quite as much as they would a top manager. "This naturally happens in retail orgs as long term associates accumulate salary increases and price themselves into more responsibility," he said. "At some point, store manager has too few heads to care for the customer aka cover the floor. FTE (full time equivalent) typically also receive benefits, ... so the incentive is to keep the FTEs to a minimum. But then you take out the expertise that drives a compelling experience. Therein lies the rub."
Indeed, it can be a tricky project, Johnson noted, adding that "the devil is in the details."
"Any significant change in the structure of leadership will likely be met with initial resistance while employees try to figure out whether to give management the benefit of the doubt," he said. Johnson also noted the concerns seen on Reddit "about the potential loss of desirable shifts, the effect on employee compensation, the potential chaos of trying to get through the day with fewer managers, and the fact that the star system strikes some as a bit too much like their child's elementary school class. My snap opinion is that Wal-Mart looks like it is trying to build a better culture, but will have to prove that it can overcome all of the operational hurdles and trust issues that significant cultural change always entails. Winning those battles is what leadership is all about."