By: Daryl Porter, Vice President, eCommerce Operations and Logistics at Walmart, Canada

Rally your team around a “Just cause” - not just now, but always.  The author, Simon Sinek coaches about the need to establish a just cause in his book “the Infinite Game”.  What I’m sharing is the lessons I learned over the last couple weeks, how the concept of the just cause played out for me and how it all applies as businesses look to re-boot.

At the climax of the panic (when the quarantine restrictions were announced) I had a lot of discussions with my team and with partners (suppliers/vendors). Those conversations all started with a discussion about how we do business during this crisis. How do we capture sales?  How do we make a profit?  You can’t blame people.  This is how they are business people are wired.  It’s a pre-disposition.

I quickly realized that in order to make the right decisions you have to re-frame why you exist as a business.  It was no longer just about taking care of customers and creating shareholder value.  We had to establish a new “just cause”.  I told everyone that we are now in business to help people get what they need to live.  Literally, that we were, now more than ever, a critical pillar of life.  Framing it this way makes every decision tree simple. It makes every vendor partnership decision easier.  I spoke with CEO’s, SVP’s, VP’s of our partner companies and rallied them all around this simple mandate.  We would leverage our just cause to inspire our associates in stores and our vendor partners to do amazing things.

It turned out to be true.  Despite the unknowns, despite adverse conditions like spiking absenteeism, physical distancing measures and overall business disruption, ecommerce fulfillment, transportation partners AND stores increased throughput capacity by as much as 5X.  Walmart Support Centre program/product teams quickly executed on ideas that would support health care workers, the elderly and vulnerable, and implemented measures to protect all customers like contactless delivery/pickup.  The lessons we learned during this time will serve us for the future.

So what did we learn that could help us in the future? Now? Here are my key findings:

1. De-Centralize Decision Making.

Empower teams to make decisions.  Framework for this.  Do what’s right for the customer, remember our value of “act with integrity” but help the customer as best you can.  This allows people to solve problems quickly without getting alignment.  It is very important that leaders are not overly critical of decisions that are made.

2. Speed First, Cost Second.

Speed is a critical component of dealing with a crisis but will likely be even more important than the normal weighting that we put into the speed/cost equation for the foreseeable future.  Being the first to do something in your industry is more important than ever. Especially if your just cause is aligned to customer’s true needs.  One of my team member’s coined a term “Launch it then Make it Right”.  These became bite sized “phases” that helped people compartmentalize activities and tasks.  This allowed us to launch 60 brand new online grocery picking operations in 4 weeks.  ( they were supposed to be completed through the summer and completed by October 2020.).  Our initial customer experience metrics are not great, but now that we have launched the stores, we can focus on the fundamentals of the experience.

3.  You don’t need the data to be 100% accurate but you need it to be directionally and intuitively correct.

Getting the business case to perfection will adversely affect your Speed.  Have smart people (who are not the execution team) work on the business cases but be willing to kill an idea quickly if it doesn’t make sense.  Remember, the best business cases connect back to your long term strategy.  If you have adopted the right “just cause” you should not be straying from your long term strategy.

4.  Use tools at your disposal.

We launched Contactless delivery by simply making a couple of changes to the website.  We  added a customer “opt-in” box and associates and providers across our network what the new steps for delivering an order would be.  Adoption was quick and execution highly effective.  Try not to re-invent the wheel. Use your platform for good and leverage existing tools where possible.    Couple other examples here.  We had a tool called “Smart order” that we had mothballed a couple of years ago. Essentially it allows call centre agents to order from the website on behalf of the customer (Through the phone).  It was a tool that we had during the nascent years of Ecommerce but it was never fully leveraged.  Anyway. we dusted it off, fixed the product, tested it and deployed it.  This will be fully rolled out beyond our pilot phase this week. Elderly and vulnerable customers across the country will be able to use this service to get the groceries they need.

Our hospital pickup service was launched in the same way.  We used our existing Remote Pickup technology to launch a service to health care workers and deliver groceries right to hospitals at a set time.  It’s working perfectly and will have 10 more hospitals launched in the next 10 days.  By the way, we lose money on both these examples but it’s the right thing to do. It connects to our just cause and is helping people who really need it and to doesn’t stray for our strategy since it’s still about getting

5.  Process first, technology second.

Process and technology go hand in hand. Be careful about spending money and time on technologies that really won’t have any applicability to your future business model.  If you can change the process, do this first before investing in technology that might be right for the moment but have less applicability in your future state.

These are some of the things I learned over the last couple of weeks. Every business is in a different spot, your just cause doesn’t have to be about getting people the necessities of life.  It could be about trust, community, quality, nutrition, health, or whatever is right for you.  Some people call this purpose and that works too. Whatever you want to call it, spend the time to re-focus/re-state your just cause, then be clear about it with your team and, I assure you, they will move mountains.