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One way Walmart is motivating workers: Less Celine Dion on the PA system

June 3, 2015, 5:50 PM UTC
Photograph by Gunnar Rathbun — Invision for Walmart

Walmart (“WMT”) has made it a top priority to motivate its 1.3 million U.S. store workers.

Earlier this year, the discount chain announced higher starting wages for hundreds of thousands of workers — costing an extra $1 billion annually — in effort to improve customer service. The idea is to encourage workers to think more about a long-term career with the company.

On Wednesday, at a meeting with 3,000 store employees in Fayetteville, AR, top U.S. Walmart execs announced new strategies to make employees happy including new cash incentives and a looser dress code. But one strategy that elicited a particularly loud ovation from the crowd: An end to the constant loop of Celine Dion and Justin Bieber music blasted into stores from headquarters.

Instead, the company is bringing back Radio Walmart after 9 years, meaning an actual DJ will keep things fresh, rather than playing the same handful of CD’s over and over as many stores did, driving countless associates (and customers, too, probably) batty. Even better, individual stores will have more control over their thermostats rather than having headquarters decide.

While those may seem a mundane moves, the changes are meant to show workers that senior management is listening to their complaints.

“There is nothing I like better than hearing about your jobs, your ideas, your hopes and dreams, and frustration, and listening to how we can make your lives easier” Walmart U.S. CEO Greg Foran told the store workers, handpicked for their strong performance, to attend Walmart-palooza, a three-day event culminating Friday with the company’s annual shareholder meeting.


“I’ve done your jobs,” said the 20-year Walmart veteran who told the reins of the $290 billion a year U.S. division last year.

Foran also told the associates that they know Walmart customers best because they’re on the front lines. Other steps Foran and his team have unveiled included giving store associates and managers more say in what is sold locally based on their day-to-day interactions with customers.

He will need to have these workers on side as he looks to build on the three straight quarters of comparable sales growth, a streak that started after nearly two years of stagnation. And more shoppers have been coming into stores for two quarters running. But the recovery is fragile, and Walmart knows it needs to keep improving customer service.

Foran also talked about a new push he called the “10-feet rule.” Associates must greet customers and make eye contact when they are within 10 feet as a way to lift sales. He also announced an extension of a tactic implemented during the holiday season that called for all registers to be staffed at peak hours. Walmart will now keep more registers open during the busiest hours on weekends outside the Christmas period.

The session was partly hosted by a sarcastic, overly candid puppet called Willie Sellmore (i.e. will he sell more?) who delivered humorous but frank employee feedback to McKenna, Foran and other top U.S. executives.

Walmart also announced a looser dress code. Starting next month, associates will be able to wear black and khaki denim. Those Doing more physical chores will be allowed blue denim too. Previously, denim was banned except for the store shelves. The move echoes Target’s (TGT) less formal code implemented last year.

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And in what is a symbolic move, Walmart has brought back the slogan “Our People Make The Difference” to associates’ name tags. The retailer is also rolling out new, though modest cash incentives to employees who do the best selling certain products.