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When you make organizational improvements – be they for the benefit of employees and/or customers – are your efforts spot on or misguided?

I recently read an article about a new dress code being imposed on Wal-Mart employees (effective later this month). The purpose of the new dress code is to help customers more-easily identify employees. I don’t have a problem with that; given my recent experiences in a few different stores, more stores could benefit from this.

Unfortunately, some employees are groaning because the dress code – which consists of white or navy blue collared shirts, khaki or black pants, closed-toe shoes, and a royal blue Wal-Mart vest – is not being subsidized by Wal-Mart. In other words, employees need to buy the clothes, and Wal-Mart will provide the vest. For part-time, minimum wage employees, this could pose a financial hardship.

The article went on to say that this isn’t the first time in recent years that Wal-Mart has imposed a dress code (It doesn’t say, but apparently those didn’t work?) and that there are other issues Wal-Mart should address, like understaffed stores and product shortages.

Reading the article, I stopped and wondered what was really going on. And wondered if this is a more-pervasive problem, not just one for Wal-Mart. I started to ask some questions:

  • Is there perhaps a misguided focus on what’s important to the customer? Is the issue identifying who’s an associate? Or is the issue really that there aren’t enough associates to begin with?
  • Have they made these changes because of what they’ve heard from customers?
  • And relative to other improvement priorities, was this one most important?
  • Or did they just go for low-hanging fruit that costs little to Wal-Mart but puts the (financial) burden on the employees instead?
  • Are they making improvements in one area to the detriment of another?
  • Are they making improvements for one constituent (customer) to the detriment of another (employee)?
  • What’s really important to their customers?
  • What’s most important to the employee experience and employee happiness?
  • Are there other underlying issues that should be addressed first?

Is Wal-Mart robbing Peter to pay Paul? Is your company making customer experience improvements in a vacuum, without considering the full ramifications? Or is it reasonable to request that employees do something that causes them pain but is for the benefit of the customer? After all, the customer is always first and always right, right?

A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul. -George Bernard Shaw