Narrator: Your employees message each other on Teams. They manage projects on Asana. They store files in Dropbox. Or maybe they use Slack, Monday.com, Google Drive… These brands are all familiar workplace platforms. But what if. WHAT IF…all of the platforms employees needed were combined into one superapp? How great would that be? How simple to use? That’s what we’re talking about today, among other things, with Richard McColl.
Richard McColl: Our associates shouldn’t need to know all of the different business platforms that we use to support them. What they should do is enjoy an end-to-end experience that stays with them and is frictionless.
Narrator: Richard is Vice President of People Technology at Walmart where he applies Human Centric Design, Design Thinking, AI, and Technology to the associate experience. Prior to joining Walmart, Richard served IBM for over 18 years, having held several leadership roles including Vice President and Senior Partner, Talent Technology Practice Leader. And today, Richard is discussing the ins and outs of Walmart’s Superapp, applying design thinking to the employee journey, and crafting one seamless digital experience that can do everything from inform employees about their credit score to support their mental wellbeing.
On Cruising Altitude, we talk about employee experience lessons from leaders at companies with over 30k employees. A lot like reaching Cruising Altitude at 30k feet, things look a little different when you’re managing 30,000 people. On this podcast, we bring you insights from the leaders who inhabit that rarefied air. Today’s episode features an interview with Richard McColl. But first, let’s hear a word from our sponsor.
Richard McColl: I love to describe my role here at Walmart as helping make Walmart a better place to work. It really gives me purpose and inspires me. It’s really about bringing digital and technology to our people agenda in areas of growth, in terms of wellbeing and belonging agendas. And it’s also about helping bringing data and ai, together to help create an intelligent enterprise.
Narrator: Before we get into the details about how Richard makes Walmart a better place to work, let’s take a step back and get an overview of Walmart’s industry and employee personas in the Flight Plan.
Richard McColl: We’re a retail company and we first serve our associates that are serving our customers in our stores and in our clubs. Our frontline associates are at the forefront of who we serve. We have a helm office population that is a very distinct and unique persona. From our frontline workers. And then I have the privilege of working with a very unique set of associates. And those are our people, technology associates, and they’re engineers. They’re product managers, they’re UX designers. And they’re constantly developing and improving the tools that we provision to our frontline associates and our home office staff.
Narrator: You could say Richard has a big job. Because Walmart is the biggest employer in the world. So that also presents some challenges.
Richard McColl: A unique challenge we have is that Walmart scale. You know, Walmart is a people led, tech powered omnichannel retailer, and we’re helping people save money and live better. Anytime in anywhere in our stores online and through their mobile devices. each week, approximately 230 million customers and members visit over 10,500 stores and numerous e-commerce websites in over 20 countries. Walmart employs approximately 2.1 million associates. One of those opportunities of scale is the vast number of unique roles with unique needs that need to be served. Whether that be our truck drivers, our cashiers associates, serving and fresh, our finance analysts, pharmacists, nurses, merchants, each of those personas and roles. Requires and deserves a set of people technology and support that’s unique to their needs. We also have consumer expectation in the mix here. You know, think about the 18 year old associate who’s applying for their first job at the local Walmart or walking in on their first day to be trained and onboarding. They have a cell phone in hand and their expectation is to be able to consume and engage. Through that mobile device, we have a large amount of data that we have a custodianship responsibility for. And so data integrations and how we connect our various systems so that our associates can have a smooth experience. You know, this involves a lot of work to gather and clean that data and then to integrate that into one user-friendly experience for our associates to easily access. And then for our field population, there’s this fine balance between meeting productivity and efficiency on the floor, while providing a personalized and rewarding experience to the associate themselves. And so unlike a corporate population where most interactions are digitally captured, field associates and their managers are really relying on in-person interactions with our customers. So integrating our digital solutions into the flow of their work. So, And capturing the right data at the right time is a unique challenge.
Narrator: Of course, Richard is up to the challenge. Let’s learn about what he recommends as best practices when it comes to delivering a first class digital employee experience.
Richard McColl: something that has helped me a lot gain inspiration and I’m always looking for adjacency for inspiration, so, And in this case I’m inspired by what airlines have done in terms of how they’ve really approached their customer experience and how they’ve really put the, design and focus on a singular persona. The way I say it is they’re not confused between the traveler and the pilot. They never sub-optimize one experience for the benefit of the other. They have a dedicated, focused application for the traveler. And I’m sure that they have one for the pilot and one for the ground staff but they curate, they are focused on the customer experience and through that they’ve created this incredible end-to-end journey that we can all benefit from.
Narrator: So Richard is taking a page from airlines when it comes to developing the Walmart employee app.
Richard McColl: When we think about those airline mobile applications that let you discover somewhere to go make a booking, select a seat in advance, get nudged to maybe select some meals, in some preferences for the day of travel. On the day of travel, get notified to check in. Guide me through the airport and come with me as I get on the plane, let me know that my bags are on the plane and when I get off, connect with me again and tell me where I might pick up my bags reward me with some points that I can see and maybe ask me for some feedback. And so if I think about that, there’s probably 14, 15, 16 different big business platforms that the airlines have taken. We don’t see any of that. We don’t see the friction and the, the touch points between those systems. We just get this incredible mobile experience that goes from the very beginning of a journey all the way through and stays with us. And so that analogy is what we bring to life with Walmart. When we think about our customer mobile experiences and how they can start an order on at home. And bring that into the store club and continue. But we also need to think about our employees. And that’s where the analogy and the adjacency, I think is wonderful to look at that as inspiration and say, can we do that for our associates? Can we create that same compelling experience that stays with them, but doesn’t bring the complexity of the enterprise into that? Our associates shouldn’t need to know all of the different business platforms that we use to support them. What they should do is enjoy an end-to-end experience that stays with them and is frictionless.
Narrator: And that single app Walmart is creating to deliver an end-to-end frictionless experience to Walmart employees…THAT is a superapp.
Richard McColl: A super app is really a composable application that integrates all of the experience touchpoints. Of a user in one application, exactly like the airline analogy that I shared with you, just like the Walmart mobile app, it removes the need for a user to discover access to having different experiences and different applications by unifying all of those systems into one mobile application where the seams between the business systems disappear. So as we think about super apps at Walmart, we don’t just think about people experiences as a standalone container. We also think about people experiences and how they’re embedded with all of the capabilities that that persona will need to be effective. And so if you think about a field store associate, the experiences and capabilities they need to not only be an associate. But also how they need to serve a customer to do a return, to do some picking to find a product in a store for a return. We need to look at how we bring all of those together to serve that persona. As we look at it through the people lens and point of view, it’s about making sure we have all of the capabilities that that associate or manager would need at any point in time. Whether that be how they’re applying for a job at Walmart, how we are onboarding, how we are rewarding or coaching them, whether it be their financial wellbeing, mental wellbeing, helping managers administrate. How do we bring all of that capability that’s traditionally been segregated into different systems into different services and unify it in a really incredibly delightful way where the platforms that they are service from aren’t visible, that it’s all unified under one experience.
Narrator: Of course to deliver a cutting edge digital employee experience, you know Walmart is leveraging the latest technologies, like AI.
Richard McColl: AI is a huge part of this as well in, in terms of personalization. With 2.1 million associates, all with unique needs, AI is giving us an ability to, within that super app, create a very personalized experience with preferences and data unique to the role and to the individual. I will say generative AI is coming at speed into this space. We are really excited to see some new capabilities coming around generative ai. In the people space this year. And I think it’s gonna be a huge game changer in terms of how our associates will want to interact with all their other experiences especially people one.
Narrator: Their overall approach is human-centric design.
Richard McColl: Design thinking and being obsessed about the unique persona that we are serving. We come at this with a way of working that really elevates the role of ux and design thinking to being an equal partner to both product management, to engineers, and to the business. So, And by elevating our UX capabilities we really come into this with a design mindset that isn’t driven through technology, but really through the needs of the associate that we are serving. And so I would say design thinking. And the elevation of UX within our overall ways of working is really how we get in front of identifying and removing friction pain points for our users.
Narrator: And when it came to identifying those pain points, Walmart actually found that branding every single business system within the app was causing friction.
Richard McColl: When we look at the history of, people technology in general, I think that we’ve. Had our fair share of bookmark farms of efforts to use intranet portals to help associates or employees navigate to different systems. But in that journey we’ve also become obsessed with branding. It’s our way to inspire people to come and find and discover something. And so we’ve used branding as a navigational aid. as part of an overall awareness effort as we bring these experiences together into the Super app, it’s an opportunity to say we don’t need those brands because we have an ability to surface the right capability at the right time and to put in front of the user the things that they need. Most. So the need for branding, in my view, goes away, but it also then provides for a, a more seamless integrated experience, bring it all together in one mobile app, is one thing. But if we brought our brands, you know, I think we would still see users being confused about which parts do they need to go to. And so I think Debranding gives us an ability to really look at this from a, a pure design point of view. And more end-to-end experiences.
Narrator: The Walmart employee superapp is actually going above and beyond the expectations of a digital employee experience. They’re incorporating educational elements so employees can become financially literate, for example.
Richard McColl: We are using our focus on super apps as an opportunity to really rethink how we put together meaningful experiences for our associates. And so financial wellbeing and financial literacy is a really great example. You know, we’ve had many different benefits programs available to associates. So. And we pride ourselves on that. But if you have those across a number of different systems, you’re putting a friction point of discoverability, navigation and different experiences and logins. All of those things create the potential of lower adoption. So as we bring these capabilities together in a super app, surfacing the financial components from our different partners providers in the financial and money space, we have an ability to rethink that experience in one that will help guide a user through a more prosperous financial. Life. But at the same time, we can use it to uplift their literacy. We can embed micro learnings in our financial tools to help elevate the awareness of financial planning credit the importance of credit scores. And so we can build these experiences now in a way that is more end to end. But also focused on, helping associates, whether it be in financial literacy and wellbeing, or maybe it’s in mental wellness. And so we can really stitch together compelling, integrated experiences.
Narrator: While pioneering this new idea, how does Richard know he’s on the right track?
Richard McColl: Data. It’s really a data driven approach that we’re taking to really. Deeply understand our associate journeys within the experiences that we are bringing to life. We have a D X C approach, a digital experience scoring approach that takes into account quite a number of metrics that we bring together so that we can look at. The holistic experience and feedback of our associates around these experiences. And then we combine those metrics with direct feedback from our business partners and associates to ensure we’re capturing the full picture. But we are really driving our Improvement efforts based on the data that we glean from the usage of our experiences and applications and how we bring that to life through a D X E score.
Narrator: With over two million employees, Walmart is using all of the technology at their disposal to elevate that digital experience.
Richard McColl: AI and ML are a vital component to our ex strategy and our D X E scores. So by leveraging machine learning models to understand our associates better, we’re ensuring that we can really drive meaningful, impactful features into our applications. And so ai and ML enables us to only understand our user experience in terms of how those 2.1 million associates are engaging with the technology. And super apps, but it’s also about augmenting it to provide insight to how personalization and recommendations can help improve the experience. Um, So our AI learns from our associate interactions to ensure that the experiences we are providing being dynamically responded to in terms of changing in associate needs.
Narrator: We’ve touched on so many ways Richard is making Walmart a better place to work. And part of the reason why he’s able to do that is because he’s gained wisdom from when he’s seen the employee experience get a bit bumpy, especially when onboarding. Let’s talk about those turbulent moments and what we can learn from them.
Richard McColl: I had the, the privilege of working for another great company, IBM, in a consultative leadership role. and so I had the opportunity to see many clients struggle with this one. And where I think onboarding is a great example to talk about is the opportunity really lays with your ability to tear down silos. When we think about the fundamentals of bringing someone new into an organization The temptation is to look at it through the functions, whether it be security, who need to provision access and control, whether it be the IT organizations that need to provision technology, whether it be laptops or mobile phones. It could be the people and HR organizations needing to make sure that all of the prerequisite paperwork and processes have been completed. The temptation is to look through all of those through a functional lens, but if you take it through the user-centric lens the employer associate that’s joining the company this is a really vulnerable moment. They’re joining a new company and leaving behind a lot of confidence from where they may have been and coming into something very new. They’re coming into a place where they don’t know. All of the vocabulary, they don’t know where the supplies are kept. They don’t know how to make good decisions, yet they don’t have everything they need yet to be effective. And so I’ve seen companies struggle with this because they’ve taken a functional approach. Let’s improve the HR processing. On onboarding, let’s better provision technology. And they’ve approached it in a, functional or a siloed approach. And so where I’ve really seen companies be successful and why we’re so heavily investing in transforming our own onboarding experience is for these reasons our ability to meet that associate where they are joining that company. And take them by their hand and guide them through a curated onboarding experience that really removes the friction for a lot of those examples that I gave. We know that not only will they have a much stronger engagement with the company and their sentiment will move really quickly around their decision to join. A great company like Walmart, but they’re also gonna be more productive, much more quickly. And so investing in, modernizing, but integrating processes, like onboarding to me is one where if done well, the benefit is probably more significant than other areas of transformation. But where I’ve seen it struggle is when companies haven’t. Really taken a step back and looked at how they bring this together as one integrated end-to-end experience and the scenes between the different functions has still been very visible to someone who’s coming in.
Narrator: Richard says providing a smooth digital experience starts at the very beginning of implementation.
Richard McColl: I think when we haven’t used design thinking from an end to end, Approach to implement a tool that’s part of a process and not an experience. We’ve missed the mark, you know, so early involvement of product and user research teams has, it is just critical. You know, without their involvement, there’s chances we may even try to solve perceived problems and not the actual problems that associates are experiencing. And so early engagement by the business and our design thinking teams and our UX capabilities to really look at, problems from an end-to-end perspective, from a user-centric perspective. Not through a tool, not through a process lens, but really from a a consumer experience perspective has worked well. We can’t also fix processes with products. So, you know, sometimes we’re requested to build a tool or system to fix a broken process, but it never works. by working across our business segments. Through that design thinking, UX led approach with our product teams. You know, we’ve been able to mitigate a lot of these issues by making sure that we navigate away from thinking that it’s about the introduction of a new tool or a new system, and really looking at the experience and the processes that we need to enable around that.
Narrator: Getting it right takes a systematic approach, working closely with employees to ensure their needs are being met.
Richard McColl: When we approach the problems with a design led product led mindset. And we center in on a specific set of, pain points for a specific persona we do best. And sometimes that means you’ve gotta be really focused on a problem, on a really specific persona or user. Then you can move on to the next. And so I think the whole concept of being iterative and developing products in an evolutionary way is probably a smarter and a better approach than thinking we need to build products in totality that we need to be perfect from the very beginning. But getting. minimal viable product that really solves a problem to begin with in a perfect way, and then continue to evolve that capability by listening through our D X E scores, by listening to our associates by being present in clubs and stores and seeing how people are interacting with the technology. And then building out the next problem and capability and just progressively moving forward has really been working well for us. One of the, the challenges of that approach is that we’ve created demand, you know, and so one of the, the situations we are blessed to find our ourself in. Often is when we’ve created a successful experience, a new capability that solves a particular problem for a particular segment of the business is when all the other segments want that. Um, And they’re quickly keen to adopt it. You know, and all of these segments for, for Walmart are multi-billion dollar companies. And so it’s crucial that we accelerate that process of not only how we introduce new technology or products but how we are then ready to quickly scale that across the enterprise. And so we are constantly trying to anticipate the business needs and demands as we build out these products, you know, in an iterative way.
Narrator: But when things really aren’t going well with an employee, Richard helps that employee reflect and self-coach.
Richard McColl: I think it’s always an opportunity for growth, you know, so I come at it from a growth opportunity perspective. Yet, yet, in my view is the most powerful word in the English language, yet gives potential and opportunity for an individual. To see a future where they’ve grown, where they’ve changed their behaviors. It’s not limiting and closed. You are not yet great at this. You are not yet demonstrating the behaviors that we would like you to do so is far more likely to achieve growth and correction than you aren’t good. You don’t demonstrate the right behaviors. You’re not making decisions in the right way. It gives potential an opportunity. I also love to open, ask open-ended questions. You know, and this is something I’ve been, you know, working on at a personal development level, is getting far more fluent on my ability to ask these open-ended questions in moments where people need this help, this coaching. Cuz what I often find is that they’re able to self realize through questions like, what could you have done better? Or what happened as a result of that conversation that they’re able to self coach, that they can then, introspectively look at what they have done or not done and build a plan to do better next time. And I think if they can do that, it’s actually probably more effective than if I’m giving them that direct counsel in terms of what’s expected
Narrator: Richard has a lot to teach both employees and us when it comes to a human-centric digital experience. On that note, he has some final pieces of advice for us as we come in for a smooth landing.
Richard McColl: I’d probably say there’s three pieces of advice. the first is never stop being bold and create an inspiring vision. It’s so important for our teams to feel like they’re working. On a moonshot opportunity that’s challenging but critical to the business. And it will help motivate not only the teams working on it, but those that stand around. And so I think having that inspiring vision to rally an organization around in terms of people, technology is so important. I think the second piece of advice I’d give is don’t lose sight of the business that you’re in. Really align your digital transformation to the business that you’re in and to the people strategy that underpins that. And so we are a retail company and so that leads me to my third piece of advice, which is listen to your users. Our associates. And most importantly for Walmart. That’s the wonderful people who serve our customers in the stores, in the clubs, working in the supply chain and distribution centers, our truck drivers, our field associates, like as Sam Walton said back in the day, you know, they’re the key to our success. And so, within that business strategy, Know which business you’re in and have a people tech strategy that underpins who you are and the industry you compete in. And constantly be prioritizing and listening to the users that matter most to you. And as I said, for us, that’s the wonderful associates that are serving our customers.
Narrator: So be bold and push the bounds of what a digital experience could be. Create your own superapp. Make the digital experience as simple and easy to use as possible. Iterate and work collaboratively with employees to embed their voice in their digital experience. And leverage AI and machine learning to understand employees and personalize their experience.
Thank you for listening to this episode of Cruising Altitude. This episode is brought to you by Firstup, the company that is redefining the digital employee experience to put people first and lift companies up by connecting every worker, everywhere with the information that helps them do their best work. Firstup has helped over 40% of the Fortune 100 companies like Amazon, AB InBev, Ford and Pfizer stay agile and keep transforming. Learn more at firstup.io