Born to Lead: Workforce transformation lessons from the former COO of Walmart

“Be bold - this is not a time to incrementally get better. The pace of change is moving so fast that, if you are not being bold and taking risks, you ..

“Be bold - this is not a time to incrementally get better. The pace of change is moving so fast that, if you are not being bold and taking risks, you will fall behind.” - Gisel Ruiz, former COO, Walmart 

Workforce transformation is happening at a pace we’ve never seen before.

But with so much change happening at once, it can be incredibly easy to be overwhelmed and hard to know how to lead and manage a workforce transformation.

That’s why we called in one of the planet’s leading authorities on the subject.

Gisel Ruiz, the former COO of Walmart,  is a globally-minded executive with extensive experience across C-suite roles in operations and HR. During her 27 year career, she led teams through large scale growth, complex challenges and notable workforce transformations. 

She was the special guest for the inaugural episode of The WFM Show. 

Here are the actionable insights from Gisel about workforce transformation and improving operational efficiency alongside employee and customer satisfaction:

1. Give up control

A one-size-fits-all approach to scheduling doesn’t work. 

Gisel says: “Your associates want more flexibility over when they work. With a standardized, one-size-fits-all approach to scheduling, you lose the agility within your workforce. It’s much harder to react to the needs of the business and impossible to optimize.

“The biggest hurdle we faced when moving to flexible scheduling at Walmart was the idea of control. You move away from control, conformity and discipline when you start to introduce flexibility. But you should embrace giving up control and building freedom within the framework you set for scheduling.” 

2. Technology is a game-changer

Giving up control is much easier to do when technology plays a key role in your business.

“When we first pioneered preferred scheduling, we realized very quickly we’d created a huge amount of additional administrative work for our managers and associates,” says Gisel.

“We made the mistake of not actually keeping in mind what work we were adding by bringing in flexible scheduling. The additional work and admin kept our managers off the sales floor, kept them away from driving sales and stopped them serving our customers. 

“Utilizing technology, AI, and finding digital platforms to partner with meant our associates and managers could get their best work done and serve the 265 million customers that walk through our doors every week - that was a real game changer. Investing in technology is investing in your business’ future and enables you to stay in front of change.”

3. Cut work, not costs.

“Unfortunately, we think about operational efficiency as cost cutting,” says Gisel. “At Walmart for many years, we were stuck in that cycle. Most of our KPIs were centered around cost. 

“I’m challenging you to think about operational efficiency with an eye towards your greatest asset - your employees - and the second next biggest asset - your customers. It really is a mindset change - how do you get the most value out of these two most important assets?

“Change your mindset to operational optimization rather than efficiency and look for ways to best utilize your workforce.”

4. Unlock the creativity of your workforce

According to Gisel, employee engagement isn’t the one way street it has traditionally been.

“The approach of sending out company newsletters and putting up posters as ways to improve employee engagement is over,” she says. “We live in an emerging experience age and this means my senses need to be involved as much as my brain.

“I want to interact. I want to see. I want to react. My voice needs to be heard. It's really a fun time to be a manager and executive to try and figure this out. There are modern ways you could use technology and digital platforms to engage and involve your employees in your mission and what you're trying to accomplish. These help unlock the creativity of your workforce and move your mission forward.,”

5. Expect everyone to live by their values and beliefs 

“I always find it interesting that sometimes companies will focus on a culture defined by ping pong tables, nap pods and free food,” says Gisel. “Those are absolutely bonus points but it really starts with a clear mission, purpose, and a set of values and beliefs that we can all work and live by. 

“Share with your employees your moonshot. I think that that’s one of the most important things that you could do for your company culture; paint a picture of the future and who you want to be, short term and long term, so you can galvanize your teams to start working towards that. 

“Expect everyone of your current and future employees - and your current and future management teams - to really live by your values and beliefs. That's the big difference maker.”

6. There’s no such thing as back to normal

According to Gisel, COVID-19 has given all companies a unique opportunity to do things differently.

“We’re living in a very unique opportunity. The pandemic has catapulted every industry into figuring out how to work remotely and conduct business virtually. 

“I often hear about going back to normal. But why would you want to go back to normal? Take a step back and ask what do you love about back to normal.  Now is the time to take advantage of this new found pace and energy and willingness to innovate and experiment and really move your company forward.”

Watch and listen to the full episode for more to dive even deeper into these insights from Gisel and hear her amazing story.

Watch now

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