Thursday, March 6, 2014

People Expect Better From Leaders...

Walmart once again tops the list of Wisconsin employers who consistently abrogate their responsibility to pay their employees a living wage so they don’t have to rely on public assistance.

In years past, if you worked for Walmart and only worked part time, you didn’t qualify for the company’s health insurance plan, or it was prohibitively expensive. That forced many people who worked for such companies (Walmart is only one of many) to seek help elsewhere to acquire insurance, etc. for themselves and their children.

As the chart shows, in part because of the economic meltdown, and in part because of the company’s well-known practice of paying below-market-value wages, BadgerCare enrollment was steadily increasing but by the 4th quarter of 2009 (point ‘A’ on the chart) had leveled off and stayed that way until the 4th quarter of 2011 (point ‘B’), when Walmart began increasing the hours provided to associates, throwing many off BadgerCare, due to a policy change in the state’s health insurance plan.

At first glance this doesn’t seem like it’s a problem, until you consider that the increase in hours worked (at below-market-value wage) isn’t enough to make up for the increase in insurance premiums. So, the workers get squeezed even further.

Perhaps the worst of all this is that this company, maybe more than most, is in a position to demonstrate genuine leadership and lead the way away from survival wages to wages that provide the means for families to thrive, and prosper.

I’d like to think that there are many folks in management positions who’ve been lobbying for exactly this kind of change. Think about this for a second: remove all the negativity associated with low wages and what is left?

You’re left with a very well-run organization – there’s no disputing that Walmart is the leader when it comes to world-class distribution practices, having invented many industry benchmarks over the years.

If you’ve ever seen the inside of one of their distribution centers then I’m sure you’ve marveled at how this company can keep track of the thousands of products they sell, keeping their inventories and sell prices as low as possible while still meeting market demands. Additionally, who could dispute their forecasting techniques? In these respects, there is no better company on the planet.

The company’s top leadership should set the example with respect to employee compensation - and be the paradigm in this area as well. Granted, changing corporate culture is often a very difficult thing to accomplish. Walmart is a great company – except in this area.

In fact, it is exactly that lack of ‘push’ from top management that turns public opinion against Walmart. The company could be the ideal of American employers, yet sadly, so far has chosen not to.

Yet, given the company’s performance in the technical areas of meeting consumer demand while realizing very good profits, there’s no doubt whatsoever that they can be successful in this effort – all it takes the political will to do so, and that must come from the very top.

Just think of the respect this company could garner by resetting the terms of its implicit social contract. It would earn this company greater profits than what they experience currently. Americans love success stories, and in every aspect of conducting business, Walmart is a great success story – except for one.