Editor's note: Last month's "First Word" and "Last Word" columns generated a firestorm of e-mail. While most agreed that attitude, rather than pay, is the biggest influence on performance, several took ex-ception. Many readers wanted to know what Wal-Mart thought. Here you go.
As you pointed out ("Last Word," Scott M. Paton, April 2005 issue), Sam Walton wouldn't have been pleased to hear of your recent experience with Wal-Mart.
Your recent shopping experiences at Wal-Mart didn't meet your expectations. That makes two of us--they didn't meet our expectations either. Regardless of how late at night you shop at a Wal-Mart store, our expectation is the same: We're here to serve the customer. We want you to be satisfied every time you walk through our doors.
However, to take Mr. Paton's personal experience at two Wal-Mart stores and apply it to more than 3,000 Wal-Mart stores does a disservice to more than 1.2 million hard-working associates who do a great job of serving our customers every single day.
We appreciate customers bringing concerns to our attention so we're given the opportunity to address the issues and improve our service. We're listening, just as Mr. Sam would have wanted. Thanks for making us better.
Vice president of customer service
Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
In your article "Min Wage <> Min Effort" ("First Word," Dirk Dusharme, May 2005 issue), you hit the nail on the head when you said that workers suffer from an attitude problem. Good service comes from putting others' needs before your own and treating them as you would like to be treated. Poor service comes from employees who are only there to collect a paycheck.
I agree with you--a person has to want to do a good job. Tools and training are crucial, and a fair rate of pay is important, but the amount of passion and desire correlate more to quality service than the rate of pay or complexity of the task.
If people don't bring "the stuff you can't teach" with them, it won't matter how highly paid they are.
I think the minimum wage should be abolished as one more example of socialist failure. The reason it may appear that minimum wage earners give poorer service is that they remain minimum wage earners longer because they give poorer service. I want wage earners to be paid what they're worth and wage payers to have the freedom to pay it.
Face it, not every job is worth $5.75 an hour in every part of the country.
I take exception to Dirk Dusharme's editorial. It's not that it's OK to give poor service if you're paid low wages, but more that low wages attract people who provide poor service. I fully agree that everyone, regardless of pay, should do their best to be a good employee. If their job is to greet customers at Wal-Mart, then they should be good at it. But doesn't it stand to reason that if they were truly good at it, they would most likely be working someplace that pays better?
What surprises me most is that you're the editor of Quality Digest, a magazine that spends a lot of time talking about standard deviations, SPC, Six Sigma, and all those great processes and programs that make so much of statistics. I believe that statistics will prove that low-paying jobs attract people with low skills. High-paying jobs buy the better skills. It's a fact of life.
If, for whatever reason, you've made a strategic decision to be the low-wage employer, it's folly to expect that you'll attract the most experienced, talented and motivated employees. Should you have the good fortune to land an exceptional employee, it would be foolish to expect to retain them over the long haul.
There have been a number of intelligent, thoughtful people who have spent a great deal of time and energy on this issue. Maslow, Herztberg and even Deming come to mind. I would suggest that the next time Quality Digest is tempted to make complicated issues appear to be simple, they spend some time doing their homework.
I agree with Scott and Dirk regarding Wal-Mart. Frederick Hertzberg's research proved long ago that pay is irrelevant. Deming further showed that poor performance is management's responsibility. The indifferent attitudes of some Wal-Mart employees wouldn't go away if their wages suddenly were doubled. Only sound management, consistently applied, can make pleasant employees a constant fixture. After all, the "old" Wal-Mart paid no better than the current version!
In the article "Six Sigma Goes to Washington" (Laura Smith, May 2005 issue), I only have one question: Can anyone inform the mayor of Milwaukee about this process? It seems more important to him to have surplus staff doing election stuff rather than dealing with potholes or permits! It was an excellent article.