• Home
  • >
  • Labor
  • Walmart Attempting to Foster Compassion Among Managers

Walmart Attempting to Foster Compassion Among Managers

Can compassion be taught? That’s the question Walmart hopes to answer with a recent initiative for its store managers. Since July 2022, Walmart has flown about 2,000 managers per year to its headquarters in Arkansas to foster discussion about how to relate to workers and associates.

Like most retailers and big-box stores, the manager sets the tone of the store; he or she is responsible not only for how it looks but how it feels and how it can provide the best service to the great and varied palette of humanity that walks through its doors each day.

Each week, Walmart flies about 50 managers to what it calls its Manager Academy. Throughout the sessions of Manager Academy, trainers drive home the message that Walmart’s success is dependent upon how well the managers can take care of their fellow associates, their clientele, their greater communities, and themselves.

Per a press release from late last year, Manager Academy is just one aspect of Walmart’s $1 billion commitment to focus on career-driven training and development for over two million associates by 2026, totaling over 5.5 million training hours in a variety of fields.

From deep in the heart of Walmart country – Bentonville, Arkansas – managers are reminded of the why behind the world’s no. 1 retailer, echoing CEO Doug McMillon’s keynote address at CES earlier this year: that Walmart is a “people-led, omnichannel retailer dedicated to helping people save money and live better.” The focus here, however, is on the latter half of that message – living better – entrusting managers who can keep that mentality at the forefront of their workdays to translate into revenue and trust.

Fostering Soft Skills Yields Big Rewards

Quantifying and modifying one’s emotions is a process that never ends. Can Walmart do so for its thousands of store managers, however, to achieve a more humane (and ultimately profitable) store experience?

“Managers must reflect on their own biases and predispositions and overcome them,” said Scott Lieberman, founder of Touchdown Money, to The Food Institute.

“Managers must lead by example. … This will show employees how you want their customers treated.

“Showing employees the same compassion by listening to their concerns and demonstrating patience, empathy, and understanding will allow the manager to be a role model.”

Lieberman added that compassion training for employees in a retail setting is imperative to grow and maintain repeat customers. By equipping managers with a broader set of emotional tools, Walmart is essentially translating the manager role into something more vocational – a steward, perhaps, for the brand, one who can proactively listen to customer questions (or complaints), take a deep breath, and draw on what they’ve learned about dealing with people to foster a more proactive solution. That may sound a little happy-go-lucky, hunky dory to some, but for many businesses, this sort of emotional training has a real impact on the bottom line.

“Empathy is not just a virtue but a strategic tool in retail,” said Sophia Tang, founder of Nako Cosmetics, to FI.

“By training staff to empathize with customers, we create a supportive shopping environment. Empathy enables staff to see complaints not as personal attacks, but as opportunities for improvement and connection.”

Tang noted that since implementing empathy training at her company, customer complaints across the board dropped by a whopping 30% within one quarter. She also added that clear communication “forms the backbone of customer satisfaction,” and that customer conflicts can become brand opportunities when consumers know they’re being heard and can work in conjunction with management toward an in-store, real-time solution regarding a product or service.

A Small Army of Mindful, Empathic Managers

Walmart is the largest private employer in the United States and counts over 1.6 million domestic workers. In the past, however, Walmart has often been criticized for focusing more on the bottom line and less on the people responsible for it; The New York Times recently reported that “Walmart workers have said the company’s business practices have been detrimental to their physical, mental, and emotional health.”

Walmart hopes to change all that. A typical Walmart Supercenter may have 10-15 managers while smaller-market stores may employ four or five. If we do some scratch math and estimate about eight to 10 managers per Walmart’s 4,618 stores, that’s over 36,000 to just shy of 50,000 managers practicing empathy and increasing their soft skill sets on Walmart’s dime. To further incentivize its associates to stick around, build their careers, and climb the corporate ladder, Walmat recently authorized base salary hikes for all managers to $128,000 as part of its $1 billion commitment to store managers, “an investment considered key to the chain’s $648.1 billion in 2023 global sales,” per Inc.

As the pandemic gave way to the “Great Resignation,” this initiative from Walmart tries to account for past perceptions of unflinching miserly practices to a more transformative, self-supporting, and people-celebrating future for Sam Walton’s retail juggernaut. Though Walmart’s e-commerce business is booming – to the tune of over $100 billion in online sales in 2023 – in-store commerce relies upon in-store customers and the careful consideration of products, prices, and personal relationships.

The Golden Rule? Utopian retail? These aren’t just hifalutin concepts thrown around by CEOs for a swift (and forgettable) media stunt – they’re strategies to empower consumers every time they walk through a retailer’s doors to be seen and heard by those in a position to help them.

“The essence of managing diverse customer interactions in retail lies in fostering empathy, ensuring clear communication, and valuing feedback,” Tang concluded. “These elements, when combined effectively, not only mitigate challenges but also enrich the customer experience, thereby fortifying the brand’s reputation and success.”

The Food Institute Podcast

From lattes to chicken sandwiches to desserts, it seems every restaurant is hopping on the limited-time offer (LTO) craze to drive traffic and check growth. But is this really having the desired effect? Datassential vice president of sales Megan Lynberg discusses the historical data on LTOs, popular LTO items, and other strategies companies are using to inspire growth.