Wal-Mart needs no introduction. There are people who don’t like the brand. There are some who call the store a fine example of consumerism, which is not necessarily a compliment. There are many competitors who would rather see Wal-Mart take a hit than be consistently at the top of their game. If you remove all these perceptive glares and look at the company simply through the prism of success and failure, then the company is a paradigm of the former. It has somehow managed to do several things right. Most companies manage to get only a few things right, that too rarely. More often than not, companies try to play catch-up while some market leaders steal the show.
There are many reasons why Wal-Mart has become what it is today. One of those reasons is the Wal-Mart management style. The Wal-Mart management style can be attributed to its founder Sam Walton but he is not the only one who shaped up the company. Many people have provided astute leadership and thus have steered the brand to its glory. Let us decode the Wal-Mart management style.
What is the Wal-Mart Management Style?
Many people hail Sam Walton for his proposition and subsequent implementation of stock options and in-store discounts or benefits. These kinds of rewards are always encouraging. Howard Schultz has also reaped the rewards of similar policies, such as an amazing healthcare plan, at Starbucks. But these are perks and they don’t necessarily make a company a massive brand. There is no guarantee that such perks or incentives will lead to efficient management. Anyone who boils down a management style to such perks would be doing grave injustice to various facets of leadership that actually make the difference.
Let us begin with the open door policy that is one hallmark of Wal-Mart management style. Much before Mark Zuckerberg became popular for his casual attire, hoodies and flip-flops and became a youth icon for his open office culture, there was one Sam Walton who wanted an open door policy in his stores and offices. Anyone and everyone could walk in, talk and share his or her opinions. It did not matter what day it was, what time it was, whose office it was or what designation and profile the employee had. As long as there was something worthwhile to be said, it was said. More importantly, the powers that were there listened to what was said. This practice is still evident in Wal-Mart management style.
In a way, the open door policy is a type of participative leadership. But that is not the category in which you can club the entire Wal-Mart management style. That is because Wal-Mart has an environment where leaders lead from the front and from behind. It is similar to Nike management style in this regard. There is a hierarchy, there are managers and leaders, head honchos and those board members who simply issue diktats. But there are people at every hierarchical level of the company who lead from the front and then allow others to take pole position as well. This is a wonderful approach as everyone gets a space to prove his or her leadership and it leads to maximum leadership and minimum management.
That brings us to the consciously planned Wal-Mart management style that focuses little on management and more on freedom and thus leadership. Management is about getting involved in the stuff that workers do and that can come in the way of the work being done. Leadership is about setting the rules of the game, instilling the values, providing adequate training and support and then to allow the people to perform. There is enough room for innovation, to tweak the way one goes about a particular job but within the ambit of the policies and there is always someone who would lend a helping hand when such initiatives are taken up.
Wal-Mart management style is also situational and transformational. While all stores may look the same, they aren’t. Situational challenges are galore when one talks about a company that is as large as Wal-Mart, as widely spread out and catering to an audience that is as diverse as it can get. Naturally, the problems at Wal-Mart stores are different and their solutions are also different. One cannot sit in the Bentonville headquarters and decide the solutions to everyday problems at the numerous stores across the country. This calls for situational leadership and that is what the Wal-Mart management style has laid the foundation for. And more often than frequent, situational leadership becomes transformational as the impending problems get resolved and new pathways are conceived.
Wal-Mart management style is much more diverse than one can imagine. When a company has such a widespread presence and so many different kinds of professionals, there is no one way of managing or leading people or getting things done.