In the ongoing debate about people versus machines in business, it seems we have reached a major turning point. Advances based on automation and artificial intelligence (AI) have raised many questions rooted in fear and curiosity.
However, I know for a fact that an element of human connection will always be in demand for our business. Our people have made and always will make the difference, just as innovation has played and will always play a major role in any successful business. It is not a question. Technology And people can work together in pursuit of our goal of helping people save money and live better lives.
As a company that’s been around for 60 years, we’re in a unique position: we’re mature but we’re just getting started and we’re comfortable with that dichotomy. Today, Walmart thrives on this approach. We recently released historically strong year-end results and are pleased to know where we stand with our omnichannel strategy.
The pandemic has accelerated our strategy and pushed us to meet customers where they are. He also pointed out that, fundamentally, people are at the heart of every business. Back then, sophisticated technology propelled our company into new services, making our customers’ daily lives easier. Now busy families can use our app to shop for groceries on the way home from the gym, or can have their weekly essentials delivered straight to the fridge. But it’s our associates who make the experience special, choosing the prettiest apples for your order or placing your eggs where you like them in the fridge.
When we launched the InHome pilot in a few cities across the United States in 2019, one of our first customers in Kansas City developed a special bond with the associate who regularly delivers groceries. Upon getting to know the client, our associate discovered that he had mobility issues that made it difficult to carry and hold heavy items, such as a gallon of milk. So when a half gallon of milk is out of stock – and the standard replacement would be a full gallon – our associate made it a point to choose smaller sizes for the customer. Or consider the customers who are blind and appreciate our associates reading expiration dates on products when they are delivered.
These human, intimate and nuanced bonds are irreplaceable. There is a deep trust in these relationships, a trust that we do not take for granted.
The roles and responsibilities of our jobs will undoubtedly evolve as technology creates more efficiencies. Our business will continue to grow accordingly, and our workforce will grow and change along with it.
While automation hasn’t had a significant impact on our workforce, it has helped us rethink the way we use our workforce. In creating efficiencies, our intention is not to replace our workers, but to focus on the things humans do best: connecting with each other and understanding the intricacies of needs, wants and people’s hopes. Ultimately, technology enables us to create more rewarding and engaging jobs that complement our employees’ strengths while serving customers in ways that are faster, easier and unique to their lifestyle.
Take for example the fact that we have started using high-speed palletizing robotics in our distribution centers, which removes one of the hardest parts of the job for our associates: material handling. A job that required them to lift tens of thousands of pounds now requires minimal lifting and allows associates to develop their technical skills through interaction with a digital display. The system also optimizes freight and creates pallets ready to go straight from truck to store shelf, freeing up associates to work with customers more than materials.
As we think about the future of hiring, we see opportunities for people who love people – those who are intellectually curious, empathetic, innovative, and interested in the connection between people and business outcomes. And, as technology advances, we’ll also see new jobs, like when we expanded our pickup and delivery services before and during the pandemic. Between 2018 and 2020, we added more than 130,000 technology-enabled seats to our stores in the United States.
An organization only exists if you have great people. I am fortunate to work among 2.1 million associates around the world, making an incredible difference for people every day in a deeply and beautifully human way.
Technology is a wonderful thing, and so are people smiling at you and asking how your day is going when you walk into our stores. There is a subtle joy in these experiences that cannot be replicated.
Community and relationships are at the very core of who we are as people. Life can be difficult and messy, and this is only understood by people who have had shared experiences. Our brains are wired for human connection, and that informs how we should think about jobs and efficiency.
The future of business is one that prioritizes meaningful human interactions while using technology to automate everyday tasks, with the two working in harmony.
Donna Morris is Walmart’s Director of Human Resources.
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