Does Wal-Mart really like its people? Then it should say so.

Wal-Mart holds the No. 1 spot on the 2007 Fortune 500 list, so its Web site should be one to admire. And in many respects, that’s true; the site shares a great deal of information, including management’s approach to diversity, sustainability, outsourcing and community involvement. 

Wal-Mart associates in Indiana are avid fundraisers for Riley Hospital for Children, so I am particularly interested in how management views its employees. Imagine my disappointment, then, when I clicked on the People tab and found these cold, unemotional words:

“As in all things, in our people practices, we take to heart our core belief to strive for excellence. That means constantly looking for ways to improve, whether it’s connecting executive compensation to diversity goals or improving the supplier application process. Improving these vital relationships are key to a better Wal-Mart and a better world.”

Huh? What happened to all the care the company takes to call its workers “associates,” which Merriam-Webster defines as “colleagues, partners, companions, comrades”? Where are the individuals in all that jargon?

Allow me to translate.

(a) According to the Great Place to Work Institute, people practices are “ways in which companies further the development of Trust, Pride and Camaraderie in their workplaces.” The capitalization kind of makes you sit up a little straighter when you read those words, doesn’t it? Those words have power; use them.

(b) A core belief can’t be core if it’s not “taken to heart.” Redundancy without purpose is the first step toward boredom.

(c) Any reference to executive compensation being tied to anything is dangerous territory. Aren’t we glad to learn that Wal-Mart executives can make more money by hiring a diverse workforce? Could one infer that otherwise, they wouldn’t do it?

Here’s how I might rewrite that paragraph, if this is indeed what the company means:

Our associates are the heart and soul of Wal-Mart. We strive to make sure each team of associates reflects the makeup of the community in which it is a part. In the relationships we form with outside vendors and supplies, we strive to ensure that they, too, adhere to the highest standards of fair and equal employment and participation in their local community.

Now that’s wording associates could be proud of.


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