The New York Post has a fascinating column by Charles Platt titled, "Fly on the Wal: Undercover at Wal-Mart, The Heartland Superstore That May Save the Economy," where he describes his experience applying for and working for Wal-Mart.
What I love about this article from a supply chain perspective is how Mr. Platt, a former journalist, picks up on how Wal-Mart empowers employees to leverage the company's high performance supply chain capabilities. First, he encounters the technology that forms part of Wal-Mart's informational architecture:
"And so we came to the Wal-Mart Pledge. Solemnly, each of us raised one hand and intoned: "If a customer comes within 10 feet of me, I'm going to look him in the eye, smile and greet him." Having pledged ourselves, we encountered the aspect of Wal-Mart employment that impressed me most: The Telxon, pronounced "Telzon," a hand-held bar-code scanner with a wireless connection to the store's computer. When pointed at any product, the Telxon would reveal astonishing amounts of information: the quantity that should be on the shelf, the availability from the nearest warehouse, the retail price, and (most amazing of all) the markup."
Next, he learns how this technology enhances innovational architecture, creating new value and best practices:
"All of us were given access to this information, because - in theory, at least - anyone in the store could order a couple extra pallets of anything, and could discount it heavily as a Volume Producing Item (known as a VPI), competing with other departments to rack up the most profitable sales each month. Floor clerks even had portable equipment to print their own price stickers. This was how Wal-Mart detected demand and responded to it: by distributing decision-making power to grass-roots level. It was as simple yet as radical as that."
Next, he experiences how this is translated to enhancing motivation and training, part of Wal-Mart's human architecture:
"We received an inspirational talk on this subject, from an employee who reacted after the store test-marketed tents that could protect cars for people who didn't have enough garage space. They sold out quickly, and several customers came in asking for more. Clearly this was a singular, exceptional case of word-of-mouth, so he ordered literally a truckload of tent-garages, "Which I shouldn't have done really without asking someone," he said with a shrug, "because I hadn't been working at the store for long." But the item was a huge success. His VPI was the biggest in store history - and that kind of thing doesn't go unnoticed in Arkansas."
"He was invited to corporate HQ as a guest at a management conference. "It was totally different from what I expected," he told us. "I thought it would be these fatcats talking about money, but no one even mentioned money. All they cared about was finding new ways to satisfy customers. I met everyone including the chairman of the company."
This experience goes to show that if you do not understand supply chains, you cannot begin to understand the positive influence and experience Wal-Mart projects on the consumer, the employee and the community.