Wal-Mart launches massive change project -- healthier foods on every aisle

Wal-Mart Gives Boost to Push for Healthier Food – TIME Healthland

Last week, Wal-Mart announced that it will change the "thousands of store-brand products to reduce sodium and sugar and push its suppliers to do the same." That's big news, given the sheer size of Wal-Mart and the footprint it has on the US Economy alone:

Wal-Mart's size, however, gives it unique power to shape what people eat. The grocery business of the nation's largest retailer accounts for about 15 percent of the industry in the U.S. and is nearly twice the size of No. 2 competitor Kroger.

"This is a game changer," said Michael Hicks, associate professor of economics at Ball State University and author of a book on Wal-Mart's economic impact. "If Wal-Mart could reduce the prices on healthy food and provide access to them in more places, you could have a measurable effect on incidences of diabetes and heart-related ailments."

Many have commented on the impact this change could have on the U.S. diet -- a dramatic change that has the potential to affect a significant portion of the nation over a short period of time. That's great news for eaters everywhere, even if food is not a typical topic for this site.

Reflect for a moment on the scale of the Wal-Mart announcement as a change project, though. What Wal-Mart has announced amounts to a fundamental change that affects every team and staff member -- at some level -- across the organization.

  • Research and development must come up with the quantifiable standards to measure partner performance as they retool their food products.
  • Outside partners must retool their products to meet new Wal-Mart standards to maintain visibility on store shelves -- the list of partners in the TIME piece that have already committed to this project indicates the scale: "Bumble Bee Foods, General Mills Inc., Campbell Soup Co., PepsiCo Inc. and Kraft Foods Inc."
  • Merchandising must orchestrate sell-through of existing products and drive adoption of new products on local store shelves.
  • Marketing must drive a new years-long campaign promoting not just a new product, but a new way of understanding food, with messaging, design, and interaction with consumers in a most sacred space: at their dinner tables.
  • Program and project managers must orchestrate activities across inside and outside teams to deliver new food products on time and on budget.

And they have to do it all in a way that inspires buy-in to a new way of working at Wal-Mart. As we've been discussing this week and last, the importance of buy-in can't be understated: it's what allows people to challenge current work habits, and make room for positive, inspired change.

Hats off to Wal-Mart for taking the hard road, the road of change. In an era of tough news in the headlines, it's refreshing to see this sort of consumer advocacy approach with one market-driven solution to our national health crisis.

Atlantic's James Fallows on 2011 Economy at

Year In News: Volatile Politics, Economic Crisis, Tablets : NPR

Apologies for the out-of-date link, but James Fallows is always interesting commentary and in this Christmas Day interview with Guy Raz on NPR, Fallows takes on the economy, the political landscape, and tablet computers vis his world predictions and how they played out from last year, with a few bits of prognostication for the year to come. Of some note:

And now it's striking how the economic crisis mainly means unemployment with the sort of corollary issue of the housing markets, where financial markets are up, corporations are having big profits. And so, the kind of all fronts sort of depression era feared, many people had in late 2008 and much of 2009, that for many people has been buffered and contained, and we're left with this very, very significant problem of chronic, very high unemployment for, you know, almost 10 percent of the public. For better or for worse, it concentrates our minds on unemployment as being the economic crisis, you know, as we look ahead.

The debate rages on the overall value of higher education in an underemployed economy. While notable for-profits continue to be challenged in the courts on this very issue, take a walk down history lane in this paper from the San Jose State College Senior Seminar in Economic Research: Higher Eduction and Unemployment: Some Paradoxes (PDF Link). Thanks to the amazing link economy of the 'net, we uncover that yes, we've been having this discussion since at least 1966. Enjoy!

Fallows will be the plenary speaker at the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges National Conference on Trusteeship, April 3 - April 5, 2011.

The Burning Platform For Change

Every once in a while management wakes up saying "let's get disciplined".  This is one of those times. In a strong economy, there's no compelling reason to embrace the idea of "doing more with less". The irony is if we were more disciplined in good economic times, downturns like we're experiencing right now would not be as difficult. But that's water under the bridge and human nature - a topic for a different time. The burning platform of "doing more will less" has spread to every industry, from corporate to non-profit, and educational institutions. The challenge is not "How do we get through this?" (which we will) but how can we build organizational structures and practices that retain the disciplines we're putting in place right now? It's easy to justify building stronger foundations when a tornado sweeps through.

Sustainability is a reminder to focus on the long term, not just the next financial cycle. It is necessary to start by tightening our belts, reducing budgets or institutionalizing temporary hiring freezes. But if we don't learn how to retain that discipline when the economy stabilizes or improves, we've learned very little - except to run from a tornado when it strikes.

A great book that takes this long-term horizon on sustainability in Higher Education is Boldly Sustainable, by Peter Bardaglio and Andrea Putman. I highly recommend this book, both in the context of environmental sustainability but more importantly, how Higher Education needs to reorganize business structures and practices to produce greater coordination across academic and administrative functions. This is critical for sustainability in the broadest sense of the word.

If It's Not Broke...

There is a certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to worse! As I have often found traveling in a stagecoach, that it is often a comfort to shift one's position, and be bruised in a new place. ~Washington Irving As part of a larger strategic effort to improve operational performance across your organization, centralizing business functions can be a very useful change. The rationale behind these projects is that by reducing redundancy, the quality of the work can be improved, processes can be made more efficient and cost savings can be realized.

If only it be this easy. Like many initiatives that include structural and people change, solving one problem creates another. Imagine an army of people sitting in their metaphorical chairs for years at a time, comfortable with what they know and their position in the organization. Centralizing work changes all the rules.

Three guiding principles will help when embarking on centralizing work projects:

1. Getting management on the same page

The best way to create positive momentum on these projects is to have leadership speaking with one voice. Once new roles are defined and the model is tested (ex: a Business Center becomes operational) it is critical for staff to know that management will hold people accountable to their new roles. Without a consistent voice from management and regular reminders of people's roles, staff will push on the boundaries of their shifting responsibilities, making it much more difficult for everyone to adjust to the new model.

2. Building trust by being inclusive

The process your staff will go through getting accustomed to new roles and responsibilities takes time and requires patience from everyone involved. Management should set up check points where people can weigh in how the new process is working. Asking for feedback and genuinely listening to their ideas and concerns will go a long way to helping build trust. The more people feel they have a voice, the more they will take ownership in the change.

3. Attitude is everything

Two primary groups are affected by this change - those who will be inheriting the work of others and those giving up pieces of their job. Although this can be stressful, at some point people need to make a choice - they're either part of the solution or part of the problem. This doesn't mean accepting an unworkable process, rather for all players to ask themselves what they can do to help the new process succeed.

By applying these three principles - Leadership speaking with one voice, management listening to staff ideas and concerns and most importantly everyone asking themselves how they can be part of the solution - this is how you get through initiatives that involve changing roles, responsibilities and reporting lines.

Broadening the Definition of "The Bottom Line"

I don’t like change. If you say you do, there is a good chance you are either a masochist, a consultant, or just plain lying. Sure, there are a lot of benefits to change—it can even be inspiring, but do you really seek it out? Or is it just that you are adept at responding to it? Love it or hate it there is no denying that change is disruptive, plain and simple. In business, you’re constantly faced with change - new markets, economic forces, staffing issues, software upgrades, the list goes on. The work of the 21st century business leader is to evaluate how to deal with this endless list of opportunities and challenges, and filter it through the “bottom-line” – financial measures that reflect the health of the organization.

Besides financial measures, what else should leaders take into account in making strategic decisions? How about “Trust Equity”, or how well you and your people operate transparently with each other.

Do you not say your most important assets are those you surround yourself with? Ideally, this core group of bright, articulate and entrepreneurial individuals operate as your eyes and ears, evaluating economic, market and technology changes.

Does it matter if your financials are solid but there’s tension across department? Should you care if your staff isn’t operating to their potential but you’re still making money or expenses are under control? How often do we honestly step back from the fires we are dealing with and ask the broader question “If we were a really solid team, how much more could we do?”

Face it. You really don’t know what’s going on. Your direct reports will do everything in their power to show how well and on target they are, while avoiding news that may concern or upset you. This should come as no surprise. It’s human nature to look out for ones security.

This is a core benefit of building trust equity. Trust is the means to an end, the most important end is knowing what’s going on around you. Although we often operate by the principle “No news is good news”, it’s “What you don’t know that will kill you!” Building trust allows you to manage down in a way that encourages people to uncover issues they don’t think you want to hear.