story by Kim Souza
Under the direction of its new CEO Doug McMillon, Wal-Mart Stores is embracing an open conversation with its stakeholders and anyone else who has something to share. The retailer plans to unveil a new blog on its corporate website sometime Monday (March 3), according to Chad Mitchell, senior director of digital communication at Wal-Mart.
In a bold move, Wal-Mart will allow public comments on the blog site, which the retailer plans as a discovery portal for its major platforms such as veterans hiring, empowering women, manufacturing jobs, healthy food and hunger, sustainability and global responsibility.
“Drawing on the success of the Greenroom blog, we are excited to use the blog platform for two-way communication about broader topics. We will be rolling the Greenroom blog into this new site. The Walmart.com blog will remain separate, but we hope to get content from the team in San Bruno on occasion,” Mitchell said.
The Greenroom blog is where Wal-Mart has promoted its sustainability and environmental initiatives. San Bruno, Calif., is the headquarters of Walmart.com.
He said there will be blog contributions from across the entire company from marketing, shopper insights, operations, and even the executive circle. On occasion, it’s possible that some news announcements could be made using this forum, which is how Walmart.com typically announces acquisitions, updates on testing phases, and other developments.
MR. SAM’S PLAYBOOK
This move to embrace conversation is straight out of the Sam Walton playbook. Two of the 10 rules found in Walton’s plan for building a business directly involve conversation.
Rule No. 4
Communicate everything you possibly can to your partners. The more they know, the more they'll understand. The more they understand, the more they'll care. Once they care, there's no stopping them.
Rule No. 7
Listen to everyone in your company. And figure out ways to get them talking. To push responsibility down in your organization, and to force good ideas to bubble up within it, you must listen to what your associates are trying to tell you.
“Although it would seem to be difficult at times to tie current and future initiatives into Sam’s founding values, it’s really a matter of leveraging modern communication channels to expand upon them. Maintaining a ‘listening culture’ is the root here,” said Carol Spieckerman, president of NewMarketBuilders.
STIRRING THE POT
She applauds the retailer’s efforts to stir the pot and rally the troops with active conversational channels like a blog.
“Wal-Mart is masterful at framing initiatives in a straightforward way (most often this) achieves multiple beneficial outcomes for the retailer, and its recent blog announcement is no exception,” Spieckerman said.
She adds that Wal-Mart is smart to incorporate employee engagement and executive input into this expanded vision for corporate communications.
“Doing so, expands on Wal-Mart’s overall tone of transparency and authenticity. The blog also enables Wal-Mart to originate conversations and keep its point of view circulating rather than allowing a vacuum to form that others are all too eager to fill with speculation and spin,” Spieckerman said.
It reminds her of the retail executive who once said, “It’s better to have conversations about your company in your living room than in someone else’s.” Spieckerman also said it will be important for Wal-Mart to demonstrate that it is heeding input from associates and not over-managing the conversation.
“Once people are given a voice, validation should follow. Corporate blogs are no different from customer forums, reviews and social media outreach in that regard. Once solicited, retailers face a backlash if input goes unacknowledged,” she said.
One has to wonder if the blog might become a target platform for rants from unions and other vocal groups on issues such as living wages or better working conditions.
Spieckerman has said Wal-Mart is adept at diffusing those pointed conversations by telling its own story.
Mitchell said the blog comments will not be censored, but the retailer will moderate the blog in accordance with certain terms and conditions — for instance it will not allow foul language or threats.
He said there many great stories to share like that of Doug McMillon, the hourly worker who became CEO of the world’s largest retailer, and the blog will provide Wal-Mart a better medium than traditional social media platforms. Those stories and insights can then be shared via social media links back to the corporate website which garners more than 25 million originals visit annually, according to Mitchell.
Analysts describe McMillon as a master communicator and charismatic leader who is dialed into tapping the strength found in the Wal-Mart network of 2.2 million employees.
McMillon recently presided over his first big meeting as CEO at the annual sustainability milestone event in Bentonville. He said that meeting and those to come would be conversational. He challenged his workforce to engage, innovate and converse in important dialogue he believes can help the company improve at all levels.
“In the future you can expect more interactive meetings like this one. So bring your stories and your ideas and be prepared to share them,” McMillon said at the conclusion of the sustainability meeting.