Employee Experience for Frontline Workers: How Walmart Does It

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Employee Experience for Frontline Workers: How Walmart Does It

Welcome to another exciting episode of All About HR! This is the series for HR Professionals and business leaders who want to future-proof their organization and learn about the latest trends & insights from industry experts, CHROs, and thought leaders. 

How can you create the best EX for frontline workers? In this episode of All About HR season 2, we discuss with Amy Goldfinger — SVP of Global Talent, Workforce Strategy, and OD @ Walmart — how Walmart approaches employee experience for its millions of frontline workers.

Amy is a passionate HR leader who accelerates the success of her organization through attracting, developing, and retaining the right talent at the right time. 

In this video, we’ll talk about: 

  • Key EX pillars for frontline workers at Walmart 
  • Looking beyond degrees in Talent Acquisition 
  • How to balance EX for frontline workers and office workers 

Watch the full episode to discover how you can provide your frontline workers with the employee experience they need to realize their full potential!

Transcript:

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Amy Goldfinger: Our focus is on building a Walmart for everyone, building a diverse, equitable, inclusive company where our associates use their voices to contribute their ideas – our best ideas, by the way, come from our associates. We ask them to contribute, we have a lot of avenues through which our associates can share their ideas. And so I think if we’re rooted in our core values and purpose, and we do take this people-first holistic approach to work at Walmart, then no matter where you sit or what you do, our goal is to have a workplace where people are excited to come to work each day and help customers and their associates live better lives.

Neelie Verlinden: Hi, everyone, and welcome to a brand new episode of All About HR. My name is Neelie. I’m your host, and on today’s episode, I speak with Amy Goldfinger. Amy is the SVP of Global Talent, Workforce Strategy, and OD at Walmart. And we are going to have a very interesting conversation. Before we get started though, as always, if you haven’t done so yet, don’t forget to subscribe to the channel, hit that notification bell, and like this video.

Neelie Verlinden: Welcome to another episode of All About HR. 

Neelie Verlinden: Now let me start by welcoming Amy to the show. Hi there, Amy. How are you?

Amy Goldfinger: Neelie. It’s great to be here. Thanks for having me on. Great.

Neelie Verlinden: Yeah, I’m super happy that we finally get to have this conversation, Amy, because this one has been in the works for quite some time, hasn’t it?

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Amy Goldfinger: We have been planning it for quite some time.

Neelie Verlinden: So yeah, very happy to have you here. Before we really start our conversation, Amy, would you like to perhaps tell the audience a little bit about what you’re doing and your role at Walmart? Yeah, maybe a little bit of an introduction. 

Amy Goldfinger: Perfect. So as you said, I run talent at Walmart. And that’s effectively ensuring that we have the right people in the right roles with the right capabilities at the right time in the right location. So we really connect from sort of our workforce planning for all of our internal movements and all of our recruiting through many programs that we design in order to help our associates seek opportunity. And I have the absolute privilege of doing that at Walmart, the fortune one. We have 2.4 million associates globally. And like I said, it’s an absolute privilege to serve the organization and our associates.

Neelie Verlinden: Nice. And thank you for that. Now, Amy, what I would love to talk to you about today is the employee experience. And then more specifically, the employee experience for frontline workers, because we often talk about employee experience for people who are mostly based in offices. And so I think it’s gonna be super interesting to talk about, let’s say, the employee experience for the frontline workers. And maybe we can start with some of the key pillars of this experience at Walmart.

Amy Goldfinger: Sure. Our goal, Neelie, is really for every role at Walmart, whether you’re an overnight stocker, or recruiter on my team at the corporate office, to have purpose and meaning and the important part of the work that we do is connecting the world to our company’s purpose and our purpose is to help people save money so they can live better and really strive to be a people-first organization and part of that focus includes creating learning, growth, and development opportunities for every associate. So we have examples like debt-free education through our Live Better Youth programs, we have on-the-job training at our Walmart academies. We have programs to train people, we have a new fleet development program to train our truck drivers. So you can get a sense for the span of roles that we have in the organization. We also take a really holistic view. This is an important part of our proposition. We take a holistic view to employee experience. So it’s not just learning and growth opportunities, although those are really critical, but we also put an emphasis on the financial, emotional and physical well-being of our associates. So we have a lot of mental health resources like Thrive, we have an extensive network of discounts for associates in terms of caring for themselves through Air Care, so we think of it as you know, a blend across sort of learning and development – how we think about purpose and meaning as the sort of the foundation and then as I said the emotional physical and financial well being of our associates

Neelie Verlinden: I think that makes that makes so much sense, Amy, to be honest, to take this holistic approach to the employee experience because you can very well be focusing on just one element but if you don’t also take all the other elements into account I’m not really sure how much benefit there will be, actually, for the people within the company, right? Okay, thank you, very interesting those key pillars. Now, if we look again at the frontline workers, some would argue that, yeah, the reality of front line work oftentimes can lack meaning or fulfillment, then those were all things that you mentioned as the pillars of the experience at Walmart. So how do you get people excited about work? Or how do you neutralize perhaps some not-so-fulfilling aspects of their employee experience? What can you maybe tell us about that?

Amy Goldfinger: We believe we really have a responsibility to help unlock every associate’s potential by providing them with the support and the resources and the training and development they need to reach their career goals, whatever those goals might be, you know. Everyone comes to us with their aspirations. And you know, not only does it make sense as a business to support our associate’s advancement and growth, but it’s also the right thing to do for their personal career development and, like I said, their own growth. So you know, at Walmart, that fulfillment and meaning really come from the role we play in the community and serving our customers. So we have 4700 stores and clubs in the US alone, and many of our associates are interacting with their neighbors, their friends or family every day. These are, in some respects, community centers, and 90% of Americans live within 10 miles of a Walmart, so they’re nexus of sort of activity in many communities, and we were helping people save money, we’re getting them the prescriptions they need, at an affordable cost, getting the healthy foods to feed their family or using our services like Walmart plus to get same-day delivery, so people can focus on their personal obligation. So helping customers and supporting fellow associates is really core to our business. And it’s always been that way since Sam Walton started the company 60 years ago, but that also means providing the opportunity to learn and grow, as I mentioned, and if you want a career, we have a path, we really believe we have a path for everyone. As I mentioned, we have countless roles, and countless opportunities for people to grow. So whether you’re an existing store associate looking for your next opportunity. Maybe you’re an early career job candidate, we really want to attract and develop and retain associates by offering that purpose and meaning in every role, the connection to their community, the opportunity to interact with customers in a really meaningful way.

Neelie Verlinden: Yeah, beautiful. And is that something, Amy, that already starts during the recruitment process, or, looking together with perhaps future associates as to what other possibilities? How can you maybe tell us a little bit about how that works?

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Amy Goldfinger: A few things come to mind around that. So particularly given my role as Leading talent. So one aspect of this is really looking at the whole person in terms of our own talent management approach. It’s their skills, their aspirations, their strengths, their affinities. And this also creates much more equity, if we provide access based on skills, for example, right, no matter where they’re learned, what they’re acquired, so things like qualifications from colleges and universities are great, but often focused solely on degrees or certificates, then they overlook the skills that people gain through throughout their lives, whether it’s volunteering, and so forth. So I think as we look forward, we want to make sure we’re taking into account like the whole person, and it’s a real differentiator for Walmart, because we have so much opportunity. And if we take into account someone’s personal goals and aspirations, we can provide the opportunities for them to achieve them. And so I think our talent management approach is really central to the way we’re approaching the future of work, the future of frontline work, and we are trying to open doors for people, right, who thought they couldn’t get to store manager or maybe move into our corporate offices. You know, Neelie, some of the data here is really important. So 75% of our store managers actually started off as hourly associates. And these are really meaningful roles that are economically compelling. So being a store manager, a great job, on average, those individuals make $200,000 a year. But we also run a lot of programs to hire and promote talent. So you talk about recruiting and some of our pipelines and our pathways, we call them non-traditional pathways. So take, for example, our vet. We’ve been very committed to the military community, not only veterans but their spouses as well. And so we launched what we call Find a Future and it’s a chance to gain entrepreneurial experience or education, through Walmart or just experience as a veteran coming out of the military and sort of joining Walmart with opportunity there. So a lot of aspects and ways in which we’re giving people opportunity. And, look, I think credentialing is a big part of this conversation. Right? So short-term credentials on the job training through service such as military service, right. As I mentioned earlier, volunteering – they’re all really relevant to hiring advancement decisions and our offering to individuals as they come into our stay at Walmart. So tying it together, you know, our view is that we provide purpose and meaning in roles and also provide opportunities for growth and development. What we see is that people understand they can come here in any frontline role and have an opportunity to build a career.

Neelie Verlinden: The word that really came to me here again, Amy, was, it seems like you’re taking a holistic approach here as well because you’re not necessarily just looking at somebody’s degree or degrees. Something I am personally very, very excited about, because I think we shouldn’t just look at that, because yes, it tells you that you were able to get a degree, but other than that, it often doesn’t really tell you all that much about a person. And I think, especially in today’s world, people can learn so many new skills and become so good at so many different things without necessarily needing a degree or a certificate for that, I think so. I love that you’re looking beyond somebody’s degrees, beautiful.

Amy Goldfinger: We feel really passionate about that. And then to your comment, it’s, you know, we can say degrees or not degrees, but we can also say just experience, you know, what we’ll bring, you know. I like this very mundane phrase of like, what do you bring to the table? And how do we help you tap into your strengths, and then also this aspect back again, you know, there’s a lot of purpose and meaning and the role that we play in our communities, for our customers, and, you know, you sort of tie that together with the growth and development that we provide with the training, the access to opportunity. I think it’s created a lot of momentum for people in our organization. 

Neelie Verlinden: Yeah, absolutely. And I also can see how this is super beneficial, both for the people that would like to join a Walmart, but also for you as a company, of course, because I mean, you know, we see everywhere how difficult it is to find people and to also ensure that people stay with you as a company. So I’m not even really sure that we can, as a company, afford to be very strict as to Okay, somebody needs to have this and this and this degree, and they need to have that. I’m not really sure if we can actually…I’m not sure if that’s something that we can still do in 2022. All right, something that you touched on very briefly, Amy, and that I’d like to talk about a little bit more is the future of work, and more in particular, I think the future of frontline work, what are your thoughts on that? Maybe that’s the first question. And then maybe as a follow-up, what are you already doing to prepare for that future?

Amy Goldfinger: Yeah. So this is where from a frontline perspective, we talk about this holistic approach exactly, like you said, right. And I mean, we consider all of our associates, not just those on the frontline, but we’re also in service to the frontline, as well, they are interacting with our associates day in and day out. And I think part of it also is, you know, we have several aspects of our people strategy that are really critical – growth, inclusion, digital, and wellbeing. And I mentioned those because let’s take digital, they all speak to one another. And they sort of are interwoven. But let’s take digital, for example. Our associates want to help customers. And we want to enable them to do that through digital capabilities. So for example, in our Sam’s Club, our associates have an app on their phone called ask Sam, but when they’re in front of a customer asked me a question that can literally ask Sam, you know, is there inventory in the back to serve this customer? Or they can ask how I bake a cake, literally, everything in between. And so it’s all in service to our customers, but it’s also in service to our associates. And so when we think about the future of frontline work, it’s about how do we equip our associates with the means by which they can serve and further sort of connecting to our purpose of the workforce? And how do we also support them, as I mentioned holistically as a person who has other demands outside of work, and, you know, the financial, emotional, and physical well-being. So I think all of that sort of comes together in this way that we’re supporting people and our associates. And then specifically, there are some programs that I mentioned, like the Finder Future. There’s also our Hope program, which is our home office pathways experience, which we’ve just launched. It was wildly successful. We’re giving people from our field workforce an opportunity to almost have what you might consider an internship, like experience in our home office, and be able to be considered for permanent home office roles and experiences. And so again, it’s all sort of in the interest of what are your aspirations and how do we give people access to those pathways forward from where they are, and they’re also people by the way, who were in their roles and serving really well and we want to support them there too in our distribution centers, in our fulfillment centers and so again, other ways in which we’re just sort of tapping into our associates, I mentioned our debt-free education. This has been a phenomenal program. Over 80,000 people have participated in earning a degree debt-free through our Live Better Youth program. We were one of the first companies to launch that benefit. So all these different ways in which we’re supporting our frontline and their future, frankly.

Neelie Verlinden: Yeah, I mean, I think one very clear way of supporting people for the future is definitely if you support them, and you have a program for debt-free tuition, that is definitely helping them towards their future as well. So yeah, very, very beautiful example Amy. Now, what I also found interesting here is the initiative Hope that you mentioned and it’s tied in a little bit with something else I was wondering about, which is you’re such a big, big company, and you have people who are working office-based or not. And you have, of course, the people that are in the field. How do you balance that employee experience for let’s call them knowledge workers versus people on the frontline or in the field? Now, I guess that Hope is maybe a part of that. But is there something else that you can tell us about this?

Amy Goldfinger: I think that’s a great question. And so we start with focusing on our fundamentals, and those fundamentals matter and apply no matter where you were, right? So we can draw these distinctions. But in fact, when we stay grounded, and our core values and our purpose, it’s about meeting people where they are and giving people the tools and resources they need to be successful, whether they’re sitting at a desk, or whether they’re in one of our facilities. And so how do we provide growth opportunities for everyone and connect our people to the resources they need to be successful? I mentioned as a people function, we’re iterating on programs and processes around providing growth, digital experience, and inclusive experience and well-being. And just going back to this digital transformation that we’ve been undergoing, you know, we’re hyper-focused on accelerating digital technologies and ways of working so that the associate experience is improved. And it drives business results, right? So you don’t have to walk to the back of the store, but you actually have the access in your hand. So even something as simple as giving our employees and all of our associates smartphones, you know, it just enables them and us and it blurs the distinction, I think, in terms of how we are taking care of everyone. And you know, I didn’t touch on this, but I think what is as important or even more important is inclusion. And even in the nature of your question, like our focus is on building a Walmart for everyone, building a diverse, equitable, inclusive company where our associates use their voices to contribute their ideas – our best ideas, by the way, come from our associates. We ask them to contribute, we have a lot of avenues through which our associates can share their ideas. And so I think if we’re rooted in our core values and purpose, and we do take this people-first holistic approach to work at Walmart, then no matter where you sit or what you do, our goal is to have a workplace where people are excited to come to work each day and help customers and their associates live better lives. So it comes together in that regard. And while we have specific programs for different populations, at the end of the day, we’re really serving all of our associates.

Neelie Verlinden: Yeah, something you also briefly mentioned already a few times, and that goes actually beyond your employee experience, although at the same time, I do think it can be a really big part of their experience as well. But how do you view Walmart’s role beyond your four walls, so to speak? So to local communities, for instance?

Amy Goldfinger: Yeah, this is really important. I mean, I mentioned earlier, you know, with 90% of people in the US living within 10 miles of a Walmart or Sam’s Club, we have a responsibility. And there are a few aspects of that. One is sustainability. There’s also community involvement, and there’s also disaster relief, and we play roles in all of those. So when it comes to sustainability as a company, we’re on a path to what we refer to as regeneration. So think of regeneration, not as just conserving, but also restoring, renewing, and replenishing to like net positive – which is a way to think about it. So how do we adopt regenerative practices in agriculture, forestry, and fisheries? And you know, the point is to give customers and associates the opportunity to participate in improving our supply chains and creating a more regenerative planet, and reducing and eliminating waste along our product chain. Like for example, Project Gigaton, we’re working with our suppliers to avoid one giga tonne of emissions by 2030. So that’s the equivalent of taking 200 million cars off the road for a year. So that’s sort of a really crucial part. Part of what we’re dedicated to as a company and regeneration apply, by the way, not just to our products in our stores and our supply chain, but also from a talent perspective, you know, how do we create opportunity for people to have mobility and access within the four walls? But also, how do we help people build skills if they choose to leave Walmart, and we hope they boomerang back? But in any case, and we’re serving communities in that regard. And then, you know, I think we serve communities through local grant programs, access to healthier food and products, we do a lot of work as it relates to disaster preparedness and relief. And we strive to use our internal resources to look at the risks to help facilities and associates prepare for disasters. And then we’re pretty crucial when it comes to responding to disasters when they, unfortunately, strike. And oftentimes, we’re a triage point for emergencies in our stores or offices around the world, given our footprint and our assets and our scope. And we take that responsibility very, very seriously. There are lots of examples in which we’re first to arrive at an unfortunate disaster situation and be able to leverage our supply chain to give people in communities, you know, the water and the tools and the resources they need in those times of crisis. 

Neelie Verlinden: Pretty impressive, I have to say, Yeah, Amy, thank you for sharing that. So now we basically get to another fun part of every episode. And that is where I get to ask my guest, what they believe is the biggest cliche that exists about HR. So there you go.

Amy Goldfinger: Well, in my previous life, I also spent a lot of time talking to people about HR, you know, something that sticks in my mind and sort of stands out to me as when HR leaders say I’m a business person first and an HR person second, and I understand why people sort of state that but I also feel like it’s really important for people in our discipline, to reinforce how critical and distinct the domain of expertise is within the HR function. And we bring that to life in Walmart in a lot of ways, you know, we’re driving the culture of the organization, we’re ensuring the business has the right people with the right skills, but these are disciplines. And there’s a toolkit. And so I just encourage people in the HR and the people function to really have pride in that and not undermine the expertise that’s brought to the table. And you know, in the last number of years, it’s been even more crucial that we really honor the functional domain and area of expertise that HR professionals bring to the table.

Neelie Verlinden: Absolutely. Thank you for that one. And also, thank you very much for joining me today, Amy. I really enjoyed our conversation.

Amy Goldfinger: I did too, Neelie. This was fantastic. I love the focus on the workforce and how we can improve it. So I’m just an absolute privilege to be here. Thank you.

Neelie Verlinden: You’re very welcome. And thank you everybody for tuning in as well. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. And if you haven’t done so yet, do not forget to subscribe to the channel and like this episode. Thank you very much and I see you soon for a new episode of All About HR. Bye

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