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Expense control is part of Walmart culture too


Walmart makes a big deal out of its culture, and as a result it invites criticism whenever changes are made to long-standing company policies that are somehow seen as diminishing the culture. That was the case again this week when reports surfaced that people greeters working the overnight shift had been reassigned other duties.

The move was interpreted as yet another blow to a corporate culture that is often derided as not being the same as when founder Sam Walton was alive. While people greeters might have been one of Walton’s ideas, the elimination of this function from the wee hours of the morning should hardly be viewed as another blow to corporate culture.

If anything, the move is evidence the company’s culture is alive and well because the decision was motivated by a desire to control expenses, which is the very foundation of Walmart’s business even though the three beliefs regarded as central to the culture are respect for the individual, service to customers and striving for excellence.

One of the ways Walmart strives for excellence to it can serve customers is by controlling expenses. Last fall, Walmart committed to investors that it would reduce its expense structure by 100 basis points in the coming years and that means a lot of things once considered sacred will be on the table. As a result, night shift greeters have been given new responsibilities that add greater value to the enterprise. See point two about service to the customer.

Nevertheless, there are those who attempt to view these type of moves through some type of “what would Sam do” lens, which is a pointless exercise. He might have eliminated the greeter position entirely after analyzing the costs associated with their wages and benefits. Walton was about as cheap as they come, or so people who knew him have said, and the same was true of David Glass, who his successor Lee Scott once said made a career out of saying, “no.” It was only under Scott’s tenure as CEO that the company’s expenses structure swelled, largely out of necessity as the company had to pay more for real estate and build nicer stores that were demanded by communities even as it raised hourly wages and improved benefits to deflect relentless criticism of its policies.

Now, under the tenure of CEO Mike Duke, Walmart is looking to regain its momentum by taking a hard look at expenses. That seems to be more in line with the company’s culture than clinging to the notion of having employees standing by the entrance of stores to welcome the handful of customers trickling in at 3 a.m.

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