Friday, October 21, 2011

...from Sam Walton

In 1962, Sam Walton began a business journey that became the world’s largest retailer and the biggest private employer, all behind one simple idea: save people money so they can live better.

Inspired by Walmart’s entrepreneurial story, I looked into the life and lessons of its founder. If a humble man with a simple idea –everyday low costs- could become one of Time Magazine's world’s most influential, why can’t we?

The 10 things I learned from Sam Walton & Walmart

1. Share business lessons with others
Before there was this blog, Sam Walton created a top ten list of his own. Among them, he offers his most successful business lessons on motivating, sharing, communicating, celebrating, listening, and five more. He also left behind a book about his story and the founding of Walmart in Sam Walton Made In America. As you become more experienced at work, take on the responsibility to share your knowledge with others around you. Start with mentoring and coaching and hopefully someday writing too.

2. Proactively interview the experts

Sam Walton was known to carry a yellow pad to take notes as he visited Walmart stores. Later in life, he would take a tape recorder to interview his store employees – and even Kmart’s - to capture ways to improve his business. Over the years, he collected lessons from industry experts, associations, and more into his business plan. As you develop your business, look for experts in the matter and interview them to learn. Many people opened the door to this unknown Arkansas business man who later turned out to be one of this country’s most powerful millionaires.

3. Acknowledge the importance of others

“Give me a W…” Walk into any Walmart early in the morning, and you’ll hear their corporate cheer that ends with “who’s number one? The customer”  From the beginning, he placed great importance in satisfying customers and he understood that doing that meant treating his employee’s right, which included one of the first profit sharing programs. Recognize that there are groups between you and your final customer and acknowledge the hard work they do to satisfy them on your behalf.

4. Experiment with new ideas

From the first Walmart store in Rogers, Ar to their Neighborhood Markets, and Supermercados, to the newly created Walmart Express in 2011, the largest retailer still follows an ideal that Walton began years ago. To grow, you need the will to experiment with new ideas. Some store formats failed quickly, but others - like Sam’s Club - became very successful overnight. Explore and try new ideas and encourage that behavior at work. If it works persist, if it doesn’t learn from it and try again.

5. Turn a bad experience into a positive one.

Before the stores we know today, Sam had a small Ben Franklin franchise in Newport, Arkansas. Although inexperienced at retailing, he grew it profitably in less than five years only to lose it to a lease renewal mistake. Rather than regretting the loss, he saw that as an opportunity to start again – now with the experience. His next project, the commonly known Five-and-Dime in Bentonville, Ar is what ultimately led to the first Walmart store nearby. Don’t let a loss get to you; see it as a way to start all over again even stronger. Don’t be afraid to fail and fail again as long as you can learn from it.

6. Live a simple life

Despite being Fortune Magazine's Richest Man just before he died, Sam Walton lived a pretty simple life. His upbringing and commitment to low costs forced him and his employees to save on everything – which included sharing rooms in low priced hotels. Even with billions of dollars, he still drove a red pick up truck and shopped for clothing in his own stores. An interesting remark from his book is when he questions why people would ever need to buy an island? Reward yourself for your success at work and enjoy the simple things of life, but remember Sam’s words “money is just paper”

7. Join and learn from expert forums

Sam claims to have gained great understanding of the business from his employee’s during his store visits. Nobody knew as much as those interacting with the customer. But he was also very actively involved in business organizations including Church, Scouts, Rotary, the Chamber of Commerce, and the NMRI which he led for 15 years. By joining other groups, you’ll get the first hand experience from other experts and a network to do great things. Join clubs and associations in your area that grant you access to other great minds and partner for a greater good.

8. Have purposeful meetings

Early on, a tradition began at Walmart to meet on Saturday mornings to review the business and have nearby store managers learn from each other. The meetings still remain –only less frequent – with an expanded purpose: “share information, lighten the workload, and rally the troops.” Establish a purpose to every meeting you have and make the time count whether it’s to make a decision, work out a problem, or celebrate a successful result. A purposeful meeting is what keeps Walmart employees attending Saturday mornings.

9. Always do things differently

Sam credited a lot of success at his first Newport store to an Ice Cream machine he bought on a $1800 loan and set outside the store – an uncommon practice in small towns those days. Besides multiple business examples, Walmart practices this philosophy even in their stakeholder meetings. I was fortunate to attend the 2010 one in Arkansas and see Jamie Foxx, Enrique Iglesias, Mariah Carey and more. It was a business meeting unlike any other with concerts interrupted by coporate officers sharing yearly business results. Follow one of Sam’s 10 business principles and have “fun”. Break away from the mold and do thing things differently to get ahead of the more conventional competitors.

10. Stay connected to your business

With a competitive mindset to win and a commitment to work hard, Sam was very engaged in the business. But as the company grew it became harder to visit all stores, review every single number on Saturday mornings, or interview more than 400,000 employees at the time. His book has an interesting anecdote of him sharing donuts at 4a.m. with truck drivers to get the scoop on his stores and what was selling well. Despite his geographical and managerial distance, he found ways to remain connected to the business. As you climb the corporate ladder try to do the same.

His vision, societal contributions, and business skills were recognized by the US presidency’s highest civilian award. His legacy is unmet by anyone else, as Walmart became the world’s largest company. And to think, everything started from 10 simple business lessons learned along the way.

Although we don’t share the same fortune, I’m happy to know we share the same ideal – the essence of my blog:

It was a real blessing for me to be so green and ignorant, because it was from that experience that I learned a lesson which stuck with me all through the years: you can learn from everybody” Chapter 2 – Sam Walton, Made in America.

* Walmart and its logo are property of Walmart Stores, Inc.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

...from The Dark Side

In a galaxy far, far away there are business lessons to be learned too.

Generations have grown up to the battle between good and evil captured in the distant imaginary planets of Star Wars. And although most kids end up becoming a corporate Jedi, we can’t ignore the lessons learned along the way from the Dark Side. 

There is resurgence in the Force (yet again) with the release of Star Wars on Blue ray. So, I wanted to pay tribute to over 30 years of an Evil Empire and its relentless pursuit of winning.

It goes to show that we can learn from the bad guys too.

The Ten Things I Learned from The Dark Side of the Force

1. Learn from your mistakes
The Death Star, a planet-like space station was the ultimate super weapon for the evil empire in Star Wars. Fortunately for the good guys, it had a flaw: a two meter wide exhaust vent that was large enough for torpedoes. The Family Guy parody of the 3rd movie, points out how the Empire made a similar mistake again on a rebuilt station. In our corporate planet, our personal responsibility is to better ourselves, learn from our mistakes, and look for ways to correct our flaws.

2. Protect your company information
Both Death Stars –from Episode IV and VI - were destroyed by direct attacks because rebels got access to plans from the ships. In those plans, they found the flaws that would lead to the Empire’s repeated destruction. Protect your company’s information and avoid them falling into rebel hands. The loss of this info could make you vulnerable to attack.

3. Have a succession plan
The bad guys are called the Sith, and even before their rise to power, they had a succession plan with the Emperor always having a backup – from Darth Maul, to Count Dooku, to lastly Darth Vader. In the final chapter, both the Emperor and Vader want to convince Skywalker to join either one –or the other- to rule the world. In your corporate empire have an employee or multiple who could be your left hand person and successor.
See the birth of Vader while this link lasts   

4. Build company loyalty
To protect themselves, the Republic created an army of clones – the classic white armored men that became known as Stormtroopers. From their early training, they had been indoctrinated with absolute loyalty to the Republic even when it came to executing Jedi leaders in Episode III. Without resorting to cloning and evil, build positive loyalty within your organization through business smarts, inspiring behaviors, and great results. 

5. Have a master plan
It took Senator Palpatine many years to control the Galatic Empire in Star Wars as his true identity – Darth Sidious (a.ka. The Emperor). However, from his early days in the planet Naboo he had a master plan on how it would all go down, including turning Anakin Skywalker to the dark side. Don’t expect your career to develop overnight, develop an elaborate plan on how to get where you want to, and setting your dictator-type behaviors aside, work towards achieving your desired job.

6. Take matters into your own hands
When the rebels launched the ultimate attack on the first Death Star, Luke Skywalker was among the leads. As enemy fighters protected the ship, none could target Skywalker’s plane accurately. Disappointed in the results, Darth Vader got onto his own plane in search of shooting down –spoiler alert- his own son. There’s a place for delegating at work, but sometimes when things aren’t going your way, take matters into your own hands. Like Vader, you might not resolve them either, but at least you tried (and saved your life)
See the scene here while this link lasts

7. Reduce risks by testing things out before
In Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader wanted to turn Skywalker to the Emperor by freezing him in Carbonite on the planet of Cloud City. However, he had to be certain the procedure wouldn’t kill his prize, so he tested it on Han Solo first. As you try new and risky tasks at work, try them out first to minimize any risks of failing on the things that could matter more.
See the scene here while this link lasts.

8. Don’t trust those closest to you
In the last Star War film, Revenge of the Sith, we see Anakin Skywalker become Darth Vader and turn against his best and only friend, his mentor, his teacher: Obi Wan Kenobi. Imagine raising a kid and teaching him everything you know only to fight him years later. Be careful with those you trust, particularly the ones closest to you who know you all to well – there’s a chance they too could turn to the Dark Side and against you.

9. Double your best work each time
Just when you thought a Lightsaber was the coolest Jedi weapon in the universe, George Lucas comes up with a character that carries two – or a double bladed one – Darth Maul. But that wasn’t enough; in the last movie of the franchise he introduces General Grievous that carries four! Always outdo your best work two fold. When you’ve mastered something; push yourself to take it to the next level.

10. Overcome ignorance and hatred
Anakin Skywalker was a good guy – at least his mom, wife, mentors, and son thought so. But his ignorance of the Dark Side and his misguidance from the malicious Emperor was what led him to evil. The other factor was his unresolved childhood issues. Overcome confusing decisions on what side to join by becoming smarter through research, books, and courses. Oh, and resolve your childhood issues too!  

It’s pretty easy to be tempted by the Dark Side with the promise of power and success, but those stories don’t last long and good always overcomes. Its our job to bring balance to the Force at work everyday.

My final advice would be to learn from the failures of evil, and follow the wisdom of Yoda, a little green Jedi Master with more than 900 years of positive lessons. Check out one of his lessons while this link lasts  "Do or do not, there is no try."

* Star Wars, its logo, characters, pictures, and all related items are registered trademarks and/or copyright of Lucasfilm Ltd.