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Solving a Communication Dilemma at Wal-Mart

Although many factors have contributed to Wal-Mart’s success, most analysts agree that good communication has played a key role in the firm's outstanding performance. Sam Walton, Wal-Mart's founder, is a masterful communicator, and although semiretired, he continues to bring out the best in his employees. Walton is a disarmingly folksy man who sincerely cares about the people who work for him. He does indeed think of them as his associates. He values their opinion and goes out of his way to obtain it. He likes to drop in on the stores as often as possible to see how things are going. During these visits, he spends more time asking questions and listening to answers than he does issuing orders.

His homespun style puts people at ease, especially in the small rural communities where many Wal-Mart stores are located. With an instinctive knack for nonverbal communication, "Mr. Sam" usually wears a mesh farmer's cap, drives an old pickup truck, and travels with a hunting dog or two. His enthusiasm borders on being corny, but even though cynics may ask, "Can this guy be for real?" Wal-Mart's associates eat it up. Sam Walton is incredibly positive about everything. With a word or two of praise, he can make a 16-year-old sales clerk feel personally responsible for the fate of the Wal-Mart empire.

Although Walton and his top management team would undoubtedly like to meet every one of the associates personally, the sheer size of the company makes that impossible. But with a little help from modern technology, management can still reach everybody in the company. All the stores are linked via satellite to corporate headquarters in

Bentonville, Arkansas. From there, Walton and the other top executives can broadcast TV messages to the employees and receive a variety of information in return.

Wal-Mart's sophisticated communication system gets plenty of use because Walton and his chief executives believe in sharing information with everyone in the company. Even the lowliest sales clerks are expected to know and care about how the business is doing. And most of them do care; not only do they get a bonus based on profits, but many of them also participate in Wal-Mart's profit sharing and stock purchase plan. In a very real sense, the associates are partners in the business.

Thus Wal-Mart employees know they make a difference because management tells them so. Although the satellite communication system is the central element of the information network (handling routine operating information, special broadcasts, and employee training programs), the current chief executive, David Glass, also believes in face-to-face contact. Roughly 100 members of the senior executive team spend four days a week on the road, visiting the stores in person. On Fridays, they return to Bentonville for a weekly information-sharing meeting. Written communication also plays a part in Wal-Mart's internal information system: Reports, memos, and company newsletters help keep people up-to-date on what's happening.

Your mission: You have recently joined Wal-Mart's human resources department in Bentonville, Arkansas. Your job is to develop training and motivational programs for new associates, most of whom are entry-level clerks and cashiers. Your boss, the vice president of human resources, has asked you to attend a human resources department meeting to discuss Wal-Mart's expansion plans.

Shortly after the meeting begins, your boss unfurls a map of the United States and points to the areas where new Wal-Marts will be located. You notice that some of the proposed stores will be built in areas that differ markedly from Wal-Mart's current locations. Instead of sticking with the small, rural towns in the South and Midwest, management is planning to leap into major urban areas in the Northeast and on the West Coast.

Little warning lights flash in your mind. You suspect that the training and communication methods that have served the company so well up until now may need to be revised to suit these new environments. You want to suggest this possibility at the meeting, but as a junior member of the staff, you are hesitant to express your opinion. What should you do?

For each question listed below, select the best choice from the available options. Remember to follow the suggestions in Chapter 1 for improving communication: Create the message carefully, minimize noise, and provide for feedback.

Вложение (документ, воткнутый в середину текста главы)

As senior manager of Federal Express's LBE (Latrobe, Pennsylvania) Station, Jon Sutton helps bring to life an automated system that picks up and delivers over 1 million priority packages every day. Air express delivery is big business—with revenues exceeding $10 billion annually. Federal Express has become the runaway leader in handling such freight by combining state-of-the-art technology with clear and effective interpersonal communication.

When you dial toll-free to a Federal Express call center to start your package on its way, someone answers you within three rings, despite a daily volume of 250,000 calls. The customer service representative places your pickup order in the COSMOS computer system and sends it on-line to the dispatch center at a station near you. From there, the order is sent to the courier over DADS, a mobile unit linked with each Federal Express van, and your package is scheduled for: pickup. When the courier arrives, he or she runs аn on-line scanner over your package's number, letting COSMOS know where ft is. Then every step of delivery is tracked as the package travels through the system: to the sending station, the airplane, the airport sorting hub, the receiving station, the delivering courier, and finally the recipient.

People make this hi-tech system work. Sutton uses a variety of communication skills to help his 52-member team meet both management's and customers demanding expectations: 100-percent perfection.. "The company's philosophy, People-Service-Profits, is the key," he points out. "If you take good care of your people, they will provide good service, which in turn will provide Federal Express with a profit."

To take good care of his people, Sutton relies heavily on meetings: face-to-face meetings with individuals, weekly 15-minute work-group meetings to get the word out on things that affectthe couriers or customer service agents, and informal monthly meetings with the work groups to bring out issues on a more human scale. "That's the time to tell it like it is," says Sutton. "You don't like the way I part my, hair? You want to know why something is done The way it is? You can suggest a change in a van's route to improve our efficiency? Speak up!" Sutton understands that people are often reluctant to bring up problems, so he prompts discussions by starting with something like, "I overheard someone say . . ."

Nonverbal techniques play an equally important role. "Watching is very important to me," says Sutton. A person's facial expression or behavior lets Sutton know how things are going. And he shows his own feelings: "Just a subtle look, a glance, or a hint of action can often get my point across without having to say anything."

About written communication, Sutton says he usually writes only memos and then only when "procedures change or when I want to praise someone or something, update people, remind them of something, or clarify a point." He doesn't want any misunderstandings when it affects his team's work.

To succeed as a manager, Sutton advises, you first have to know how to listen: "Always, always listen.

And I mean listen to everything, both verbally and nonverbally." Beyond that, he recommends that you should be willing to talk about anything: "You have to be able to discuss matters openly to get to the bottom of a problem and get it resolved." Such an approach will help you run a pressure operation flawlessly. At Federal Express, this appropriate expected to work 100 percent of the time.


1. How should Jon Sutton handle these problems:

(a) There are areas in certain courier routes where communications via the DADS computer unit are cut off.

(b) A new courier picks up the package at one office in a building on his route, but he unknowingly misses the pickup at two other offices in the same building,

(c) A seasoned courier leaves a small package in the back of his van when he returns to the station, clocks out, and goes home.

Which communication techniques are most appropriate to use in each situation?

2. In the past three months you've become disappointed in the pace and outcome of your monthly open-forum meetings. No one speaks up, and no suggestions are made; people just eye each other nervously, seeming anxious to get it over with and get back to work. What would you do to encourage greater participation? What specific communication techniques would you use? Include at least two strategies each of oral, written, and nonverbal communication.

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