Walmart is an internationally renowned supermarket chain and a globally successful business. The company owns more than 11,000 stores on 4 continents, which operate within the framework of a common corporate culture and values. One of Walmart’s core values is “We save people money, so they can live better,” other values are “Service to the Customer”, “Respect for the Individual”, “Strive for Excellence” and “Act with Integrity” (“Learn from the best, ”2017). On the one hand, Walmart is successfully pursuing the concept of creating a unified culture for its global supermarket chain. On the other hand, due to poor communication between middle managers and the rest of the employees, who represent about 50% of the company’s employees, Walmart faces a bulk of problems. These problems, which can be considered symptoms of a more global problem, ultimately lead to lower sales, customer and employee satisfaction, and high turnover.
Poor communication is primarily a problem for employees who work in the front office. They do not get adequate feedback from their managers about their work and are usually poorly informed about potentially problematic issues. Employees also feel that they do not have the right to their own opinion and cannot share their thoughts on the practices and policies that govern their daily work. As a rule, employees have problems due to poor information, since managers do not delve into work processes on the ground and perform their roles mainly only formally. Poor managerial feedback is not the only communication problem.
Many employees have problems communicating with each other, as managers do not carry out work aimed at building teams and strengthening team values. Therefore, if employees have conflicts, they are not resolved, remain unresolved, and accumulate, which contributes to the creation of an unfavorable working climate. Employees do not experience career or professional growth, since they do not receive feedback or assessments of their actions. Taken together, these facts lead to incredibly high turnover rates, low job satisfaction among employees, and low customer satisfaction with staff performance. In other words, a lack of communication leads to a decrease in the emotional satisfaction of employees and creates low morale among them. Therefore, managers should devote at least 20-30% of their working time to daily communication with subordinates, since this is the only way to make a difference.
Poor communication between employees and management causes plenty of symptoms including open conflicts, high staff turnover, low morale, team conflicts, low customer service satisfaction, and low employee job satisfaction. Open conflicts arise between employees, as they do not have clear leadership as to which methods of solving current work issues are acceptable and which are not, and someone from the frontline employees with extensive work experience can arbitrarily take on the role of a manager. This situation leads to instability, since, firstly, the employee may not have the necessary competencies to make responsible decisions, and secondly, his role may not be approved by other employees who occupy similar positions. Therefore, this state of affairs is unacceptable and creates ambivalence in the workplace.
The frontline employees are the main protagonists of the case under the consideration. A typical workday includes conflicts due to new hires not understanding certain aspects of the work, such as the rules for placing an item or the schedule for checking the availability of an item in stock. When conflicting working moments arise, the fault and responsibility rest with the employees on duty, which were responsible for the scheduled inspection of goods. For example, the goods ordered by the buyer can be unavailable, and the delivery time increases by several days because the goods must be ordered from suppliers, or the buyer receives a refusal for the order. However, often new employees are not informed about the frequency and necessity of such checks, which creates overlaps.
Another example of a potential conflict situation arises when new employees are hired, which happens quite often due to high turnover. Since these employees have no experience, someone has to explain to them the basics of working in a supermarket, but ordinary workers do not receive additional time or benefits for doing such work. Moreover, they have no formal responsibility to train new employees, while middle managers simply ignore this problem. Appointing senior cashiers or warehouse and salesroom administrators among the frontline employees would help solve the problem and create a structure in the work that promotes order and a supportive atmosphere.
Walmart is being active in the retail business for the last 50 years. It started as a single store in Bentonville, Arkansas, and by now it has more than 11,000 stores in 27 countries. Therefore, the development of an effective corporate culture is one of the priorities of the company. Surprisingly, in this situation, so little attention is paid to the management of communication techniques and networking between middle management and frontline employees. In Europe and Asia, Walmart operates in a slightly different context, and cultural differences can create additional friction, but overall the problem of poor communication is universal across the network. Walmart has long been criticized for not addressing communication problems, and new practices have been introduced recently. A good example is the development of the Walmart smartphone app, in which employees can check the availability of goods in the warehouse and on the shelves in the sales area, and also have access to their shift and other work events, news, and other updates.
Problem Analysis through Theoretical Frames
Several well-established theoretical frameworks can be used for the case analysis. First, Weber’s Classical Organizational Fixed Structure Theory is highly applicable for the presented task. Interestingly, Max Weber, who is widely known as a management theorist, has done a lot of organizational research and came with the Theory of bureaucratic organizations. This theory was the first known attempt to determine communication processes and fit them into the organizational structure and processes. The main working concept of Theory is the existence of roles and responsibilities distributed among all employees, which are also determined by the hierarchy. Therefore, within the framework of the theory, communication occurs under the laws of hierarchy and is structured.
Concerning the presented case, this Theory is applicable and relevant, as it suggests the possibility of solving the existing problem of poor communication. It is known that Walmart subsequently tried to remedy the situation by developing an application for smartphones through which the company distributed news to employees (Davison, 2018). However, this solution is insufficient, since it does not pay due attention to the main problem of the lack of communication between subordinate workers of the frontline and middle managers.
Therefore, within the framework of Weber’s Theory, Walmart should revive the tradition of hierarchical and structured communication. Managers can establish the practice of personal directive communication and communication through e-mail. In addition, managers will have to take on many responsibilities, such as briefing newcomers or resolving controversial situations. This is necessary because managers must fulfill their role by managing the processes in the organization. Otherwise, their role is meaningless and the organization does not need them, since they do not participate in its processes.
According to Weber’s Theory, work messages are sent from top to bottom, which avoids confusion, although it forces the organization to maintain rigid structures, where the role of each person is like that of part of a machine. Notably, Weber’s Theory also proposes to distribute work according to ability, education, and experience, presenting fixed definitions about the capabilities and seniority of employees. This application also fits well with the requirements of the case scenario under the consideration.
Second, Dietz’s theory of managerialism examines the relationship between organizational control and communication. At the same time, this interaction takes place in companies where political and economic interests are recognized and openly discussed, and communication takes into account the need for such open discussions. In general, Dietz’s Theory of Managerialism is a continuation of Weber’s Theory of Fixed Structures. Its peculiarity is a separate interest in the democratic aspirations and centers of power of the organization. In other words, Dietz recognizes that people play a primary role in an organization.
For the considered case scenario, this theory is applicable from the position that front office employees should be considered by management as the most valuable resource of the organization. In addition, employees should be perceived as subjects rather than objects of the company’s larger machinery. In other words, it is necessary to create opportunities to receive feedback from employees and develop systems for career growth and additional empowerment, as well as implement corporate social responsibility practices that will take into account the values of employees and help solve their day-to-day problems. Therefore, Dietz’s theory of managerialism should be applied in conjunction with Weber’s theory of fixed structures, since it complements it in a very important aspect of the organization’s work, including in terms of organizational behavior concepts that will be listed below.
Notably, Dietz’s Theory illustrates the evolution of organizational structures as managerial excellence came to be recognized as a class and independent power in organizations in the mid-20th century. Therefore, the rhetoric of this theory relies on managers as a force superior to their subordinate employees, even though the theory is considered democratic. Therefore, implementing it at Walmart must take into account the progress and development of relationships in organizations that have been observed over the next 70 years (Davison, 2018). In other words, the application of the theory implies that managers will be more willing to perceive their subordinates with respect, as human beings with their rights, interests, and needs.
It is also convenient to conduct case analysis using three types of communication analysis models in organizations. These are linear, interactive, and transactional models that are widely applicable as theoretical frameworks. Linear models are suitable for the analysis and consideration of one-way relationships, for example, hierarchically determined directive messages to subordinates, coming from the management or news of the organization. Interactive models involve two-way communication, for example, between the manager and members of his team, or between the coach and his mentees, as well as communication between team members. Transactional models are suitable for dealing with dynamic two-way communication, where messaging, including verbal and non-verbal cues of all types, becomes more complex as the communication progresses, for example in a conversation between two employees, during a meeting with a team, or when practices of corporate social responsibility are established.
Organizational Behavior Concepts Used as Frames
Organizational behavior is a field of study that features some specific practical concepts and theories based on these ideas. Main concepts include the understanding of the ‘nature of people’ and ‘nature of organization’. Then, the ‘nature of people’ concept is using concepts of individual difference, perception, a whole person, motivated behavior, and value of a person. The ideas of ‘motivated behavior’ and ‘positive motivation’ are of particular meaning for the analysis of the case presented. That is because poor communication in Walmart is the central reason for the lack of motivated behavior of its personnel. It is also the reason for the lack of positive motivation in employees.
Motivated behavior, by definition, is actions or actions caused by the external or internal motivation of a person or group of people. The organizational behavior theories operate with the concepts of positive and negative motivation. Positive motivation is seen as an external inducement of people or groups to take action in return for profit or career advancement. A manager can positively motivate employees by inviting them to do something in return for something else. The use of this type of motivation can be effectively used to motivate employees for more attentive and focused work, as well as a concomitant way to stimulate their career development.
Then, negative motivation, suggests using negative incentives to motivate a person or group of people to take action. Negative incentives can include coercion or warning of consequences. Concerning the case in question, the manager may inform employees who do not meet their assigned roles and responsibilities that if negative behavior continues, they will be deprived of their jobs. Walmart middle managers could use negative motivation to reduce day-to-day conflict and ensure order and chain of command in employee relationships and respect for customers.
Equally important are concepts such as the value of the individual, a whole person, individual difference, and perception. These concepts can be used in the development of CSR practices aimed at team building and increasing attention to the personal needs of employees. They can also be used as part of the application of interactive and transactional communication models, that is, when managers communicate with teams during weekly meetings or daily working 15-minute fly-ins (Davison, 2018). These concepts are also applicable within the framework of Dietz’s Theory, since the more respectful managers are to the personality of each employee, the higher the job satisfaction and the level of service will be. Moreover, the application of these practices will reduce turnover, which will have a positive effect on the company’s financial performance.
The ‘nature of organization’ is another important concept that defines the role of an organization in the global marketplace and its value. The nature of an organization also determines its social structure, values , and corporate social responsibility practices. Equally important, all of these factors have a direct bearing on how the organization treats its employees and what kind of relationship it maintains with them. It is noteworthy that Walmart professes rather traditional views and has a rather rigid hierarchical social structure of the organization. The solution to the problem of poor communication, therefore, may include a revision of values and a change in the social structure of the organization within the framework of Dietz’s Theory, since at the moment its values are too rigid in general outdated.
Interestingly, the social system of an organization is the format of its communication with partners, customers, suppliers, employees, taking into account social roles and status. Within the framework of the social structure, the behavior of people and groups is considered subject to individual and group drives. There are formal and informal social systems: formal systems include groups united by participation in the formal system, for example, employees, students, members of the sports section. At the same time, in the formal system, people can gather for informal communication, for example, during corporate events or parties. Informal systems can include a group of people who are not part of the formal structure and who spend time together for their pleasure, for example, during friendly parties.
It is noteworthy that informal systems can exist within formal systems, and this factor probably complicates the tasks of managers somewhat, although in general, it should have a positive effect on labor dynamics. For example, if there are people in a group of employees who are on friendly terms, they can support each other in difficult situations, improving the working climate of the formal group, which is consistent with Dietz’s Theory. Of course, such informal groups must respect common interests and not violate subordination, otherwise, their influence on the formal group will become negative, since it will not meet its requirements. A negative impact is also possible if informal groups violate the scope of their assigned roles and responsibilities.
The collaboration and functioning of organizations also heavily rely on the concept of mutual interest. This concept means that employees and the organization mutually need each other to meet their own goals. For example, employees invest their time and labor and in return receive social status and financial rewards. Then, the concept of ethics includes the idea of the moral principles of an organization, group, or individual. An ethical attitude can ensure that a company maintains a working relationship with its employees and retains customers, and establishes the right relationships with partners.
Recently, it has become popular to conduct training on ethical conduct in organizations, in which companies reward employees for training on codes of ethics and moral conduct. Implementing such training may be a good idea for Walmart, in line with Weber’s Theory, as due to lack of management oversight, many employees may behave unethically and may need to establish new ethical principles after introducing daily communication with managers.
Evidence in the Case Pointing to the Theories Applied
The poor communication in Walmart is determined in many ways by the failure to meet requirements to the employees’ roles and responsibilities. Another problem is implementation gaps in the formal traditional organizational structure. Therefore, the application of Weber’s Theory will come in handy, given that this theory looks at how an organization functions within the framework of traditional structures. Establishing a system of hierarchical communication, within the framework of Weber’s Theory, will create a clear structure and identify the roles of employees. The introduction of hierarchical communication will also help managers to realize their responsibility for the work of the front office employees.
Applying Dietz’s Theory will help adapt the more rigid framework offered by Weber’s Theory to modern reality, which requires more democratic relationships between managers and subordinates. Dietz’s theory also suggests taking into account the individuality and personal needs of employees, and CSR practices can be implemented within the framework of this theory. Therefore, both Weber’s theory of fixed structures and Dietz’s theory of managerialism correspond to the requirements of the problem considered in the case.
Final Diagnosis for the Underlying Causes of the Problem
Therefore, the final diagnosis for the causes of poor communication in Walmart can be identified. One of the main reasons for poor communication between employees and managers is the lack of an active hierarchical structure within which communication should take place. Equally important, there is a lack of email communication practices that could eliminate much of the chaos in communication between subordinates. At the same time, managers do not pay personal attention to employees and do not hold weekly meetings and daily meetings during which work issues and problems could be discussed.
It is noteworthy that the tension in the working atmosphere and the aggravation of the communication problem is facilitated by the absence of the shared values and CSR practices, the implementation of which would allow paying more attention to the personal needs of each employee. Shared values could also provide a framework for communication and team building within a formal organizational group. In general, the management of people and teams is a primary and obvious task for the middle managers that they must implement.
Therefore, to solve the problem of poor communication, the management needs to make some efforts, in a precisely defined direction, which was discussed above. Alternative solutions could include extending an existing smartphone app to include manager chat and employee chat functionality. To provide feedback, the tech team can create a function for employees to send messages to senior management if they have complaints or suggestions. Then, management can initiate the creation of a chat for informal communication by employees, which will be hosted on a domain that does not belong to the company, as this will allow them to create friendly ties that will strengthen and unite the team. Finally, the introduction of compensation and privilege practices such as health insurance or a private kindergarten for employees’ children will create a basis for employee confidence in the company and will increase the contribution that the company makes within the framework of the concept of mutual interest.
The final recommendations and plan of action should be implemented within the framework of Weber’s Theory and Dietz’s Theory. In particular, it is necessary to establish communication within the hierarchy, including daily meetings of managers with employees, holding meetings, and sending out directive emails. This approach will allow to level the chaos in relationships and communication since communication between managers and employees will take place within a strictly defined structure and vertical hierarchy. At the same time, the application of the Dietz Theory will ensure the implementation of more democratic practices to meet the requirements of the new global business. In particular, the implementation of the CSR practices will provide an opportunity to emphasize that the organization values and respects the personal needs of employees.
The implementation of the proposed recommendations is necessary to change the organizational climate in general and to solve the specific problem of poor communication between the employees on the front office positions and middle managers. It is especially important to create shared values since in their absence the teams can’t function normally and provide satisfactory service for clients. In other words, in the absence of prospects, feedback, career opportunities, loyalty programs, and other levers of motivation, employees will have extremely low job satisfaction and turnover levels will remain at their previous positions, which will lead to further cost increases and a drop in company profits.
Davison, A. (2018) Why Walmart’s new policy has big implications for employee communication.