Talk of rapid growth in the company was in full swing. The management training program needed associates to fill assistant manager positions within the company. In January 2002, I interviewed for a position in the program. I recall the District Manager inquiring, “So, you want to be an assistant manager?”
Fast forward to July 2016, after walking away from the corporate world two years prior, starting my own business, and working from home, I had the privilege of attending the JD Evolution Leadership Conference.
The audience was full of CEO’s and leadership teams, from one-man/woman shows up to corporate giants, all of whom took in the wisdom of the Rockefeller Principles. As I listened to the inspiration provided by the speakers, I realized that the principals they discussed were not new to me. I lived them for 14 years in middle management for a retail juggernaut… and I didn’t even realize it!
Here’s what I did realize, though: there is a huge disconnect between corporate leadership teams and the people that are in the trenches every day. From someone who’s been on both sides – as well as the guy in the middle – here are my observations:
- Communication is often fragmented and it’s relayed from multiple sources (Think of the TPS Reports from the movie, Office Space). From experience, this happens everywhere in the corporate world - from leadership, to middle management, to the people on the front lines.
- Company structure is just as fragmented as the communication. The bigger the organization, the harder it is to maintain control of the company. Without distinct roles for supervisors and employees, growth becomes stagnant as there is no clear accountability.
- There is rarely a distinct ‘Why’ behind the ‘What.’ The majority of people can tell you ‘What’ they do, but few can tell you ‘Why’ they do it. Managers and employees do not align with company core values because they don’t know what they are, the company doesn’t know what they are, or the company leadership is only in it to make a buck.
I gave Wal-Mart 17 years of service – days, nights, weekends, holidays – while sacrificing my life with my family and even my own sense of self. I thought I was doing it for the greater good.
But that company failed to live up to their core values, and because of that, they failed me. My only regret is that it took so long for me to realize it. I think about the opportunity that presented itself with the management training program so many years ago. I was hopeful, excited, and motivated. The reality is that many companies are not positioned to lead and, because of that, they alienate many of the best customers… their employees. Perhaps that’s why I decided to move on. Perhaps that’s why entrepreneurship is at an all-time high. We all want something to believe in.