Fayetteville, Ark. — There is apparently only so much Celine Dion and Justin Bieber that a Wal-Mart employee can take.
Thousands of the big-box retailer’s workers are gathered here for its annual shareholders meeting, and Wednesday, executives unveiled to U.S. workers a list of changes they can expect to see in the stores and distribution centers that are aimed at boosting employee morale — and indirectly, improving customer service.
The one that seemed to draw the most whoops from the crowd was a pledge to ditch a CD that has apparently been on loop in the stores for months and begun to drive employees crazy. The CD was a punch line multiple times in executives’ presentation to workers, including when a puppet character named Willie joked that being a Wal-Mart store worker was getting dangerous. When Mike Moore, executive vice president of supercenters, asked why, Willie replied, “One of my fellow associates recently developed a serious eye-tic from hearing Celine Dion’s greatest hits on loop in our stores.” Justin Bieber was also name-checked as one of the singers featured on the notorious CD.
Wal-Mart stores and distribution centers will soon have a new soundtrack that they’re calling Wal-Mart Radio, in which a DJ will spin tunes to be pumped through the stores.
It’s a small change, but one that seems to reflect a renewed commitment to retaining talent that began earlier this year when the world’s largest private employer said that it would raise wages for some 500,000 of its workers by raising its minimum wage to $10 per hour by 2016.
In a cavernous college basketball arena on the campus of University of Arkansas, Wal-Mart announced other workplace changes this morning that were based on employee feedback: It is tweaking the temperature in its stores, which employees have said are often too cold or too hot. It will relax its dress code, which currently only permits workers to wear khaki or navy pants with blue or white collared shirts. On July 1, employees will also be able to wear black or khaki-colored denim, and overnight workers will be allowed to wear blue denim and T-shirts.
Throughout the presentation, Wal-Mart leaders emphasized the chain’s focus on creating stores that are “clean, fast and friendly.” U.S. chief executive Greg Foran has outlined these goals previously as a central component of his plan to boost Wal-Mart’s U.S. business, which has lately seen only modest sales growth.
Foran’s remarks provided some insight into how he plans to execute that vision. Foran asked his employees to become “10-foot rule champions” when they return to their home stores. That means that they will always smile at and greet customers who are within 10 feet of them, and they will encourage their co-workers to do the same.
Wal-Mart also said it plans to bring back another popular employee engagement program known as VPI, which stands for “volume-producing item.” In the past, employees in each store have selected hot items that they emphasized when talking to customers and creating visual displays. But lately, the selection of those hot items has been done at headquarters. By letting the store employees once again take on this responsibility, Wal-Mart hopes to get them more excited and engaged in the sales process.