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Ducks in a Row: Culture Of Hypocrisy

Tuesday, June 13th, 2017

Whttps://www.flickr.com/photos/bonniesducks/4395202521/almart loves showing off all they do for their employees and it has a lot of them.

From its website (emphasis mine).

Walmart employs 2.3 million associates around the world. About 75% of our store management teams started as hourly associates, and they earn between $50,000 and $170,000 a year. Walmart is investing $2.7 billion over two years in higher wages, education and training.

What isn’t mentioned is that around the same time

Walmart lifted wages [to $10/hr], it cut merit raises and introduced a training program that could keep hourly pay at $9 an hour for up to 18 months.

Walmart especially loves to brag about its special efforts, such as those for military workers and defines its culture as “our values in action.”

However…

What kind of values enable the following scenarios?

The report says that Walmart uses a point system to discipline workers, and too many points results in firing. Walmart reportedly gives workers disciplinary points for any absence they consider unauthorized, and working less than half of a scheduled shift is considered an absence.

  • ‘I passed out at work. They sent me to the hospital. The next day, they fired me for it.’
  • “I got into a car wreck on my way to work and was sent by ambulance to the hospital. I had two fractured ribs and a concussion. I reached a manager from the hospital, who said it would be ok, and I came into work the next day with wrapped ribs and a concussion. The front manager then said that they wouldn’t accept the doctor’s note from the hospital, and they fired me for missing that day.”
  • “My appendix ruptured while at work and because I already had eight points, I could not leave work to go to the ER without pointing out and losing my job. I should have been able to leave to go to the ER and not worry about losing my job. I had even said to management, ‘So if I fall out because of my appendix and have to go out in an ambulance…I will get a point and lose my job?’ The response from management was, ‘Yes.'”
  • “I was vomiting blood and had to go to the ER. I was there for two days and each day was a point. I then had two days off, and I brought my hospital notes in when I went back. They would not accept them.”

Of course, Walmart’s well-known attitude towards women is front and center

  • “My daughter was having seizures, I had to take time off to monitor her. They counted it against me. I passed out at work. They sent me to the hospital. The next day, they fired me for it.
  • Katie Orzehowski was forced to return to work still bleeding after a miscarriage or face being fired.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so grim, but apparently Walmart expects events, such as heart attacks and car accidents, to be scheduled.

If an employee does not call in to report an absence at least an hour in advance, they receive four points, the report says.

Most ironic of all is Walmart’s tag line, which reads, “Save money. Live better.”

More accurately, it should read “Save money. Live better — unless you work here.”

All of this proves once again that there is a major difference between words and actions.

Image credit: Duck Lover

Ryan’s Journal: Can You Right A Sinking Ship?

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/bertknot/8210386029/I read an article today about Warren Buffet. His company, Berkshire Hathaway, recently sold over $900 Million in Wal-Mart stock. Why you may ask?

Buffet believes the retailer is a sinking ship and retail as a whole is being completely disrupted. Now by all accounts Wal-Mart is still hugely successful. They sell more than Amazon, are profitable and growing.

Looking at these factors alone it would seem that there is nothing to be worried about, however a man much smarter than myself thinks otherwise. How can that be changed?

Now, this post is not about Wal-Mart per say but more on the retail experience as a whole. I can look throughout my house right now and say that a large majority of what I have purchased in the past few years has been from online.

I have twin girls and my family may singlehandedly keep Amazon in business by all the items we need on a day to day basis.

Recently Wal-Mart began a service in my area where you can pick out all of your groceries online and pay, then you just drive to your location and they load your car with the groceries. You never go in the store and you have everything you need at a great price!

I can tell you that the service would be extremely helpful to my family but I have never once considered it.

Why? Culture.

I am not a snob, in fact I prefer a good burger over whatever hot dish is on trend right now, however I have a hard time considering Wal-Mart or other similar retailers for most of my purchases.

The main reason, for me, is the culture of those locations.

I feel that retail employees are paid too low and not given opportunities for advancement. Is this true? Sometimes, but also it’s a perception thing. The culture would appear to be one of hardship.

On the other hand Amazon has commercials for drone delivery and cutting edge technology. Is the apple I get from Amazon any different than the one from Wal-Mart? Not one bit, but my perception is. I feel pleased that my money is being well spent with one while depriving from the other. 

Is retail a sinking ship? Maybe, but quite frankly I do not have enough information to support such an argument. However I can tell you that my emotions are directly connected to my perception of the culture at each company and that is what determines where my dollars go.

Culture is deeds, words and actions. It is the sprit that inhabits a person and an organization. It must be jealously guarded as it could quite possibly be the most valuable thing owned.

My personality is my culture.

The company I work for is an aggregate of all combined to make up a unifying culture.

Do I have an answer on how to fix the ship? I would think it starts with the leaders and then moves down. Perhaps it can also start with the individual? 

What fuels that person? What helps them determine right from wrong? Is there a right or wrong?

These are all questions that will determine an individual’s identity and ultimately help them determine their course in life.

Maybe it is time to right our own ship?

Image credit: bertknot

Role Model: Craig Zoberis and Fusion OEM

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

http://www.fusionoem.com/

In 1914 Henry Ford doubled his workers’ daily wage, much to the consternation of other magnates, who believed, as do most of them today, that success comes from paying as little as possible.

Ford, however, believed that he would benefit if his workers had disposable income and he was correct; they used the extra money to buy Fords.

The same holds true today; modern research has proved that higher wages increase profits.

Businesses, from very large to very small, still don’t believe it and scream at the thought of a so-called living wage.

But not all of them.

Fusion OEM at just $12 million is considered very small, but it’s profitable and founder Craig Zoberis is very happy, because he is meeting his twin goals.

While lots of other manufacturers have moved operations to China or Mexico, Zoberis has kept his plant in the United States – and considers it a point of pride to pay his 55 workers above-market rates. Workers with no experience start at $14-an-hour, he says, and by completing training and gaining skills can reach $18-to-20-an-hour, plus overtime and bonuses, for total pay near $50,000 a year, within a few years.

Zoberis doesn’t expect his people to buy his products, but he did want to have a  place to work that matched his MAP and not his father’s.

My father and his partner never did a good job of hiring the right people with the right attitude. I wanted to be excited to go to work every day, and working for my father’s company, I was not.

Fusion OEM has never had a layoff, but finding great workers in its industry is just as difficult as finding great programmers, hence the need for a creative, long-term solution.

My colleagues were always complaining that there aren’t enough skilled workers who have the right attitude. When I talk about skilled workers I’m talking about machinists (…) What we discovered halfway through our life at Fusion is that we couldn’t always look outside for skilled people. We decided to hire for attitude and train for aptitude.

Fusion OEM is enjoying double digit growth, but Zoberis isn’t interested in taking outside investment. He loves going to work, saying, “This is my hobby, my income, my life,” and knows that hyper growth can kill you.

You can’t grow your company any faster than you can get the right people. If it goes too far, you might go beyond your capabilities and you’ll fail.

The interview is well worth reading, especially their approach to hiring and compensation.

I rarely make predictions, but in this case I feel pretty safe making two.

  1. Zoberis will continue building his company, growing his own people and being a management outlier.
  2. Most companies of whatever size will continue to treat people as disposable, pay them as little as possible and bitch about them to whomever will listen.

Image credit: Fusion OEM

Ducks in a Row: Walmart — King of Spin

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/64738468@N00/2212721973/

More proof that what What Walmart really excels at is PR and spin.

After years of angry customer complaints about dirty stores, unstocked shelves, uncaring employees and an exodus of customers to the competition Walmart had an epiphany.

Maybe, just maybe, they had cut worker pay too far.

What if paying workers more, training them better and offering better opportunities for advancement can actually make a company more profitable, rather than less? “Efficiency wages” is the term that economists — who excel at giving complex names to obvious ideas — use for the notion that employers who pay workers more than the going rate will get more loyal, harder-working, more productive employees in return.

Of course, Henry Ford figured that out in 1914 and companies such as Costco have followed suit.

Ford astonished the world in 1914 by offering a $5 per day wage ($110 today), which more than doubled the rate of most of his workers. (…) The move proved extremely profitable; instead of constant turnover of employees, the best mechanics in Detroit flocked to Ford, bringing their human capital and expertise, raising productivity, and lowering training costs.

However, these days, money isn’t everything. People want more challenges, more ways to grow and better career opportunities.

“We realized quickly that wages are only one part of it, that what also matters are the schedules we give people, the hours that they work, the training we give them, the opportunities you provide them,” said Judith McKenna, who became chief operating officer in late 2014, in a recent interview. “What you’ve got to do is not just fix one part, but get all of these things moving together.”

“Quickly?” Considering the years of complaints, falling sales and stock price I’m not sure “quickly” is particularly accurate.

Just think. People who earn more money have more discretionary money to spend.

Rocket science? No, just logic.

But making your company look like a hero for paying people $18K a year definitely is rocket science.

Flickr image credit: mario

Ducks in a Row: Agility and You

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/mbp_/2098427009/

I am not a lover of trendy terms, no matter how hilarious Dilbert makes them, and I’ve found they turn off a lot of people — from workers to bosses.

One of the newest to hit the trendy list is “agile” in all its various forms.

What became trendy agile was born 15 years ago.

The term originated in the Manifesto for Agile Software Development in 2001. It was a specific approach in a specific sector, but soon its core principles – moving quickly to build a minimum viable product, using iterative development to improve it on the go, with testing and feedback built in at every stage rather than just at the end.

Just how ubiquitous has agile become? It was used by Walmart CEO Doug McMillon last fall in a memo to employees to describe the future (and justify layoffs).

“Our customers are changing. Retail is changing and we must change,” McMillon wrote in the memo obtained by The Associated Press. “We need to become a more agile company that can easily adapt to shifting customer demand.”

Many companies talk about becoming agile and a large number of them think a quick and easy means to that end is to lay off the older and bring in the younger.

They couldn’t me more wrong. It’s not age that makes one agile, Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff isn’t young, it’s MAP.

Your MAP is responsible for how you lead, as well as the values that underpin your company’s culture.

If your MAP isn’t agile, or willing to change to become so, there is little hope that your company (or department or team) will be agile.

Hat tip to Wally Bock for pointing me to this article.

Flickr image credit: Martin Pool

If the Shoe Fits: Talent — Expendable or Dependable

Friday, April 15th, 2016

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIt’s a short post today, because there are a number of links well worth reading.

Way back in 2008 I wrote It’s the People, Stupid, about the value of taking care of your people, as exemplified by Zappos, Costco and Trader Joe’s.

I’ve written many posts citing Walmart’s chew-them-up/spit-them-out lack of care and how banks, Yelp, HubSpot and Nest, among others, are following the Walmart model.

Dan Lyons, who spent two years at HubSpot, has written a book about his experiences called “Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble.”

You can get a sense of how HubSpot chews and spits from his opinion piece in the NY Times.

The upshot of all this is that you, as a founder, have a choice as to which model you’ll emulate.

Walmart or Zappos.

Just understand that you can’t switch from one to the other based on the employment market or your mood.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Yelp Follows in Walmart’s Footsteps

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/javmorcas/8528220016/

Have you read yet the story of Talia Jane?

She is a customer service rep at Yelp, whose pay puts her right down there with Walmart and bank tellers.

“I got paid yesterday ($733.24, bi-weekly) but I have to save as much of that as possible to pay my rent ($1245) for my apartment that’s 40 miles away from work because it was the cheapest place I could find that had access to the train, which costs me $5.65 one way to get to work. That’s $11.30 a day, by the way. I make $8.15 an hour after taxes.” (Minimum wage in San Francisco is $12.25 an hour.)

She was fired two hours after writing an open letter to Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman on Medium.

Yelp, of course, says the letter had nothing to do with her termination.

Stoppleman has a solution.

“The reality of such a high Bay Area cost of living is entry level jobs migrate to where costs of living are lower. Have already announced we are growing EAT24 support in AZ for this reason.”

Stoppleman’s solution seems to be to kick out everyone who doesn’t earn a fat salary — how dare “them” have the temerity to want to enjoy the pleasures and opportunities of life in San Francisco/Silicon Valley.

That said, I’ve never understood why Walmart, banks, Yelp or all those who follow in their footsteps, pay their front-line people—the actual “face of the company”— what can amount to starvation wages in urban areas and then are surprised when those same people lie, cheat, steal or speak out publicly.

Tony Hsieh, of Zappos fame, Costco and Trader Joe’s are a different story.

What it comes down to is that the further away from contact with customers the greater the money, perks and benefits.

Crazy.

Flickr image credit: Javier Morales

Walmart Shafts Again

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeepersmedia/14573485711/

I loathe Walmart; in fact, it is the only thing I have ever completely boycotted. I’ve never purchased anything there and only set foot inside once, because I was with a friend.

Even when I was in a deep financial hole I found what I needed elsewhere or went without.

I’ve written about Walmart before, but their latest move is truly disgusting.

A few years ago Walmart announced a major expansion into small, rural towns. They claimed their low-cost model would save residents money and create jobs.

As recently as 2014 they claimed these stores were a huge success.

What they were most successful at was forcing long-time grocers to close.

The Town’n Country grocery in Oriental, North Carolina, a local fixture for 44 years, closed its doors in October after a Wal-Mart store opened for business. Now, three months later — and less than two years after Wal-Mart arrived — the retail giant is pulling up stakes, leaving the community with no grocery store and no pharmacy (emphasis is mine).

Oriental residents now face a 50-minute round trip to buy groceries.

Residents in these small towns are often seniors, but fear not; Walmart cares (see sign upper left).

And that scenario is being repeated all over the country.

Oriental is hardly alone. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said on Jan. 15 it would be closing all 102 of its smaller Express stores, many in isolated towns, to focus on its supercenters and mid-sized Neighborhood Markets.

But never fear; Walmart still cares.

“In towns impacted by store closures, we have had hundreds of conversations with elected officials and community leaders to discuss relevant issues and we are working with communities on how we can be helpful,” said Wal-Mart spokesman Brian Nick.

I’m sure the residents really appreciate those conversations when they are reconfiguring their budgets to account for the additional gas required to drive 50-plus minutes to shop.

But the efforts to burnish its image have never been brighter; the TV ads that brag about how they are investing in their greatest asset — their people — will bring tears (of laughter) to your eyes.

And for those of you who believe that these actions are required to provide the best return to shareholders, consider Walmart’s stock is down 29% in the last 12 months.

Walmart’s stock is $65.8, while Costco, its complete antithesis is $147.02.

Or, as Kyle Murau, a self-described “ruthless, rightwing, baby-eating, blood-sucking capitalist Republican,” said  on Quora, “…this just goes to show that publicly traded corporations aren’t, in themselves, evil. It depends how the company’s culture works.

Flickr image credit: Mike Mozart

Ducks in a Row: Good Wages are Profitable

Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/warriorwoman531/9975179525/Henry Ford figured it out in 1914 when he doubled his workers’ daily wage. He did so on the assumption that they would spend the additional money on stuff beyond subsistence needs and he was right — they bought Fords.

Companies today still haven’t learned that lesson and continue to treat workers as disposable, fighting the idea of a living wage and crying that the cost will destroy them.

A column in the Ney York Times led me to this video describing research that proves their thesis wrong.

Flickr credit: Heather Paul
Video credit: Aspen Ideas Festival

Ducks in a Row: Why Align Objectives and Resources?

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwsmtnprairie/8036523186

Ever head the old French proverb, ‘the more things change the more they stay the same’?

Ever since the advent of modern business, managers have faced the same conundrum, i.e., how do you accomplish your objectives when your resources (human or other) are continually reduced or the objectives are significantly expanded, but the staff isn’t.

Walmart is the most recent poster child for this approach and it is especially obvious in the fresh grocery section.

“Labor hours have been cut so thin, that they don’t have the people to do many activities,” said Burt P. Flickinger III, a retail consultant. “The fact that they don’t do some of these things every day, every shift, shows what a complete breakdown Walmart has in staffing and training.”

Walmart continually sends out detailed memos of work that needs to be done daily, such as discounting older meat and eggs, testing/filtering deli oil and watering plants, but adds a rider that practically guarantees managers inability to perform.

At the same time, the memo warns managers not to exceed the weekly hours assigned to their stores. It tells managers to examine whether they are assigning employees too many hours or overtime beyond what the company had budgeted.

Walmart’s employment numbers are misleading, too, since it would require an additional 200,000 workers to have kept pace with its square footage growth.

There are thousands of companies, large and small, consumer, enterprise and startup that play the same game; Walmart is just one of the most visible.

The basic point is simple and should be embedded in your cultural DNA.

When objectives change resources, human and otherwise, need to change (whether increase or decrease) with them.

Flickr image credit: USFWS Mountain-Prairie

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