Recently, I met with a senior talent leader for a major company. We were talking about companies that are known for great talent practices. The name Walmart surfaced in our discussion as one of these companies, despite the fact that, to our knowledge, Walmart does not engage in robust development activities when compared to the other companies we were mentioning. How is this possible?
As we thought about it, it occurred to us that the answer is both obvious and important: the need for broad talent development as exemplified in practices such as coaching and teaching leaders “soft skills” depends heavily on the organization’s knowledge worker population in comparison to the broader workforce. Companies with smaller numbers of knowledge workers depend more on standardized processes and consistency of customer experience. This is particularly true of a company like Walmart in a market niche that doesn’t require a highly tailored customer experience that depends on specialized sales force training. Walmart’s patrons don’t expect a lot of high touch shopping support. What they expect is convenient parking, a well organized shelving format, affordable prices, a wide variety of merchandise and cashiers who are quick.
Contrast this with a company like Nieman Marcus where clients expect a high touch, customized experience. This requires the company’s sales representatives to be sophisticated, product knowledgeable and able to connect with clients in a way that drives a positive shopping experience. All this requires Neiman Marcus to deploy very different talent practices from Walmart.