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A Look Inside Lee's Garage

Wal-Mart President and CEO Lee Scott started Lee’s Garage two years ago to communicate directly with associates. He wanted to hear their questions and answer them in his own words. It has been a popular destination for associates on Wal-Mart’s intranet to read their CEO’s thoughts on leadership and various issues facing the company.

There has been a lot of interest in Lee’s Garage due to an article in Friday’s New York Times.

Here is what Lee told Wal-Mart associates about the article:

"Well, we had been looking for ways to promote Lee’s Garage, and it looks like the New York Times has done that for us. The reporters take issue with my tone in some cases, but as you all know, with me, what you see is what you get. I will respectfully tell it like it is. I think the story ends on an important point, quoting my advice to an up-and-coming leader: “The first thing you can do is make sure you treat your people well, and understand that your associates are what will make you a success.” I truly believe that and think you can’t go wrong in this business if you live by that. Feel free to check out Lee’s Garage on the WIRE and see what you think." - Lee Scott

Here are some of Lee’s postings to Wal-Mart associates:

Welcome to Lee’s Garage

When I was a kid growing up in Baxter Springs, Kansas, my father ran a local service station. I started working there when I was 12 years old and learned a thing or two about the value of a good day’s work.

At the end of each day, my dad’s garage became the gathering place for local residents to come and discuss the day and world events as we knew them in Baxter Springs.

Well, I guess you could say my garage is a little different than my dad’s, but the concept is the same. Because our stores, clubs and distribution centers are spread out and our associates come from all walks of life, I wanted to create this forum as our own “garage.” As far as I’m concerned, no topic should be considered off-limits as you ask questions and we talk through events from the Wal-Mart point of view.

I want to know what’s on your mind and will do my best to answer as many questions as I can. With more than a million associates in this country, answering each question personally would be a taller order than I can fill. You should continue to seek out other ways to get your questions answered, such as through your store manager or regional personnel manager. What I will do is answer questions where I see a common theme or questions that address culture, current reputation issues, retail issues or the overall business operation.

To kick this off, I’ll discuss an issue that’s been on my mind.

Based on some of the things I’ve run into as I travel around visiting stores, clubs and DCs, I think we have a communications challenge and I’m not sure how we resolve it. I’ll share some of my thoughts, but I would appreciate hearing any ideas you might have on how we can do a better job of keeping each other informed.

I was in a store the other day and a customer needed to buy a money order, but the associates weren’t aware of the Financial Services we offer. It struck me that if our own associates aren’t even aware of our services and products, how will our customers know?

Because of our size, it is more important than ever for us to talk to each other and communicate what is going on in our business. Your knowledge of our business is critical to our success, and we also have to share company news with each other. This is so important that the company has invested significant resources in this WIRE project so we can make sure that everyone has access to the same information. It will be a major communication tool for the entire company.

It is one piece of the communication solution. But, the most important tool we have is you. We rely on you to share with each other what is going on.

Mr. Sam’s style was always one-on-one, grabbing a legal pad and getting on one knee to listen to store associates. It’s interesting that he always took a lot more notes than he gave. Associates had the responsibility to be honest with him and give their opinions on how to improve the company. Mr. Sam took seriously his responsibility to listen and keep associates informed. He knew that our associates were the idea generators and they are the reason this company thrives.

The same holds true today: Managers have a responsibility to communicate everything they can to associates. And, if there are problems in a store, the associates have a responsibility to do what it takes to get the problem resolved. I challenge each of you – whatever position you have in our company – to take ownership in this communication challenge.

Thanks for all you do. Let me know what’s on your mind. Watch this space for future discussions in my “garage.” See you in the stores!
- Lee


How Can I Mentor an Associate When Management Is Negative?

August 19, 2005

Thank you for reading Lee’s Garage. We all have a responsibility to set a good example in our facilities. This assistant manager is seeking guidance on helping develop a future leader. Thanks for sending in your questions and for reading Lee’s Garage. - Lee Scott, President and CEO

I am mentoring an associate who would be a great leader. The only thing holding him back is the negative feedback he hears from my fellow leaders. I am very passionate about Wal-Mart and what we stand for. What can I say to him without being negative towards fellow management? - Assistant Manager, Washington State

I don’t know what you can say without being negative towards your fellow management. I am not sure that if your fellow management is being paid by Wal-Mart every two weeks to do a job, but they’re spending their time running around being negative, that there’s really much you owe them. There’s certainly not much that I feel I owe them.

I don’t think you have to denigrate them or create an issue within the store. But managers have a responsibility to handle their complaints appropriately. And handling complaints appropriately is not a group of managers sitting around and complaining about their company, their store manager, their hours or this and that.

Management’s responsibility is to take real issues and get them resolved. If that means the district manager, the regional or Eduardo Castro-Wright have to be involved, whatever it is, that is management’s responsibility.

When you take on the role of manager, you give up the ability to sit around and gripe. You get paid for fixing things. So if that person is going to be swayed by the negative people around him, I am not sure your assessment that he would make a great leader is correct. Somebody who can be a great leader can figure things out for himself and will evaluate the situation based on what he senses and feels – not what he hears from someone else. So part of what he is going through is a maturation process. As he learns and grows, he will understand that aligning himself with people who are perpetually dissatisfied is limiting – not only in your ability to create a career, but probably limiting in your ability to enjoy life.

I prefer to be around people who are willing to identify problems, tackle them head on and get on down the road and make sure that whatever time they spend on this earth they are as happy as they can be. As you get to my age, you realize life is too short to spend it sitting around a break room complaining.