Walmart embraces military style leadership in new academy

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When you think Walmart you probably don’t think of military precision and buzz-cuts, but the company sees potential in adopting army tactics for leadership training.

It’s recently launched the Leadership Academy, based on military colleges in Britain, and has brought in  consultant and former commando Damian McKinney to put his own spin on it. Changes to military structure in the 1980s led to a system where individuals were given more power and trust, a lesson which can be used for businesses today, he said.

“We truly had to align each person in an organization against the vision we were trying to achieve so that every individual knew their part and could make the decisions and be given the trust to make those decisions,” McKinney said.

One of McKinney’s major points is a lesson any HR pro could adopt: stop promoting someone into a role and then training them to do the role. In the military, people have to be ready to step up into a role one or even two levels above them with very little notice. While it’s unlikely you’ll lose your leaders in a combat situation, unexpected leave is common, and some companies aren’t even prepared for  retirements that should be been predictable.

Walmart’s academy also works to push people beyond their current capabilities, so attendees aren’t just trained for their current job, they are trained for the next rank up and the one beyond that and for two more levels beyond that. It also imitates real-world situations the managers might have to manage.

“We learned the hard way in the military that the best development is done through simulations of the scenario or environment you’re going to be in,” McKinney said. “We built bespoke to Walmart the sort of situations these leaders will be put through, and therefore help them be better leaders.”

While there may not be assault courses or shooting exercises, but they are embracing concepts such as promotion on merit. Walmart’s academy recruits can only progress to the next stage of their development, and therefore career, if they perform well enough during the course.

“We know our associates are our greatest asset; investing in the development of our future leaders is essential,” said Celia Swanson, senior vice president of talent development for Walmart US. “Through the Leadership Academy, we have developed talented leaders, managers and associates around the country - providing immersion training and broader development for our leaders.”

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