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Walmart’s SVP shares how to retain top talent amid uncertainty

Amid an uncertain economy and race for talent, manager training is key to keeping associates happy.
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· 4 min read

Are we in a recession? It is the biggest mystery since the internet went nuts trying to spot J. Lo’s wedding dress in an “old movie.” Despite this uncertainty, the talent war has raged on: There were 10.7 million open positions in June, the economy added 528,00 new jobs in July, and 40% of employees plan to leave their job in the next six months, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As employers continue to compete for talent, and talent looks for employers with values that align with their own, Walmart seems to have found success in investing in managerial relationships and upward mobility. HR Brew spoke with the big-box retailer’s SVP of associate learning and leadership, Lorraine Stomski, about how to recruit and retain top corporate talent in 2022.

This interview was conducted for HR Brew’s July 14 virtual event on the topic of “The New Rules of Talent Attraction and Retention.” It has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Lorraine Stomski, SVP of associate learning and leadership, Walmart

Before we dive into recruitment, how did you get into HR? By training, I am an industrial organizational psychologist, so I’ve always been fascinated by human behavior. Given how much time we spend at work, I figured [HR] would be a great combination of psychology and work, and how people behave at the workplace.

How did you make sure your employees remained engaged throughout the pandemic and how did that affect your retention efforts? When we first started to hear about the Great Reassessment, I asked my team to look at the attrition in the organization, and we found that it didn’t play out at Walmart the way maybe it did at other companies.

We’ve got a 2.3 million [person] workforce…but what we did see is, there was this Great Reassessment, a lot of our talent stepped back and said, “Who am I? What do I want to do? Where do I want to go in the organization?” That was a great opportunity for us to look at how we were thinking about career mobility and the talent marketplace.

With an organization of Walmart’s size, how do you provide enough attention to each employee to understand when they may be considering leaving? We understand the important role of managers, so we started to build out a learning curriculum and resources for our managers about how to have career conversations [and] feedback conversations. We still do our engagement survey as well to understand how employees feel so we can change our strategy based on how our employees feel.

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What are you hearing from employees on why they stay with Walmart? We found that it’s really about them being able to see a path for growth and development. That is the one thing that comes up, time over time—if our associates feel like they have somebody in the organization that cares about their own development, then their engagement level is way higher.

We redesigned our performance [review] strategy around four conversations, around having goal-setting conversations monthly, because one of the things that we learned from the pandemic was you can’t just set it and forget it. [Employees] know [their] goals at the beginning of the year and [they] have to continually revisit them. We asked them about the quality of their conversations and found that the quality had increased year over year.

From the recruitment side of things, how do you connect with traditionally marginalized communities at all different levels? We try to reach communities that wouldn’t consider college or don’t have the resources to go to college and get a degree or certificates, and "Live Better U" (LBU) was born as a result. The intention of LBU is to give debt-free education to associates. We go through non-traditional [hiring] paths like veterans or veterans’ spouses, [and] we have internships for our hourly associates to bring them into the home office.

Large corporations are struggling to engage Gen Z right now. How does Walmart get in touch with them and make sure they get support once they’re there? The most important lever for our Gen Z [employees]...is through our purpose…I’ve been around for a while, and Walmart, to me, has the strongest purpose I’ve ever [experienced], we serve our communities. One thing you’ll find in our psychometrics, is we attract employees who are high in service orientation [and] altruism.—KP

Do you work in HR or have information about your HR department we should know? Email [email protected] or DM @Kris10Parisi on Twitter. For completely confidential conversations, ask Kristen for her number on Signal.

HR is challenging. HR news doesn’t have to be.

HR Brew keeps you effective in the fast-changing business environment.