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People First: Talent Development Is A <br>Wal-Mart Hallmark

'We look for people who can think like a businessperson, and that's a little harder to find,' CIO Dillman says.

InformationWeek Staff

September 24, 2004

3 Min Read

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Wal-Mart Stores Inc. these days is thinking about people as much as about technology. Specifically, it's thinking about how to build the next generation of business-technology leaders.

"We're blessed to be in an environment growing like crazy," executive VP and CIO Linda Dillman says. "Because we develop our own code, we look for people who can think like a businessperson, and that's a little harder to find. It requires a lot more training and development. We are now spending a lot of time on that."

Dillman understands why her peers at other companies might embrace outsourcing. But she worries that the trend toward outsourcing, particularly offshore, is contributing to the decline in the number of people--specifically women--pursuing information technology as a career. "It's not the first time we've seen skill sets get commoditized and moved out," she says. "But in the past, we've always responded by creating the next skill set, and my fear is that we're not going to do that this time."

Wal-Mart has ongoing initiatives to develop its own talent, including a leadership-in-training program and a leader-to-leader project for managers. "It's all about pushing as much down as we can to the people who are closest to the work to take on more responsibility," Dillman says.

People development consumes 60% of Carol Mosely's time. "Continuing to grow leaders is something we have to do for our survival," says Mosely, VP of information systems, who's responsible for human resources, help desk, store, and specialty systems. As the company continues its global growth, a big focus is to try to match the right people with the right opportunities. Tony Puckett, VP of international systems, admits that Wal-Mart's "biggest problem" is knowing that someone hired in Colorado has grocery experience in Japan or speaks fluent Spanish and wants to work in Madrid. That's why Mosely is working on a project for HR, to begin testing next month, to let employees alert the company of their talents and ambitions, so Wal-Mart can recommend work experiences, training, or online courses they should pursue to reach their goals. "How we treat, train, and mentor people is a competitive advantage," she says.

At the same time, Mosely also is focused on another people-related issue: compliance. Different states and countries have different laws about when, for example, employees must take breaks or how late minors can work. So Wal-Mart continually enhances its homegrown point-of-sale and scheduling systems to ensure those laws aren't being violated. The complication isn't in the software, though--it's staying up to date on laws as they change.

Photo of Wal-Mart courtesy of Knight Ridder

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