David Van Rooy is Senior Director of International Human Resources Strategy & Operations at Walmart. In his prior role at Walmart, he was responsible for the world’s largest performance management and employee engagement programs, covering nearly 2.2 million employees globally. Before Walmart his most recent role was as at Marriott International, where he led global HR operations and systems for several Centers of Expertise (COE), and he also held several Talent Management and Marketing roles of increasing responsibility at Burger King Corporation. David received his doctoral degree in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from Florida International University (FIU). He has published over 20 peer-reviewed scientific business articles and book chapters, many of which have been covered by national and international outlets including USA Today, CNN and HR Asia. In addition to performance management and employee engagement, he is a recognized expert in the fields of emotional intelligence and employee assessment and selection. His book, Trajectory: 7 Career Strategies To Take You From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be is now available.
Why does the world need a work revolution? (In other words: the way we’re working isn’t working. Why not?)
This one is easy. We spend way too much time at work to not care about making it as enjoyable as possible. People can just roll their eyes and say “it is what it is” or they can band together and do something about it.
How are you or your organization reinventing work in some way (big or small)?
There is often a lot of noise that surrounds Walmart, and as a result many great things are lost. As the world’s largest employer, Walmart provides more ways to grow a meaningful career than any other company. In fact, about 75% of store management was promoted up from hourly paid roles. The success of the company is powered by great employees, which creates even more opportunity – both internally and externally. The best part of this is that the work of every employee matters, and everyone has an opportunity to contribute in a massive way. For instance, Walmart will hire at least 100,000 military veterans over a 5-year period; committed to buying an extra $250 billion dollars in U.S. goods over 10 years (which is estimated to create 1 million more jobs in the country); has implemented ambitious sustainability goals, including using 100% renewable energy and creating zero waste; and, started the Women’s Economic Empowerment Forum to increase sourcing from women owned businesses and provide development and training to women around the world (including many that don’t work at Walmart).
Sometimes reinvention involves taking something that seems simple on the surface and figuring out how you can do it differently to have a big impact. Walmart recently began implementing one such program which gives employees a chance to sign up for open shifts to gain additional hours. Beyond offering access to more hours, it creates an opportunity to expand skills by providing opportunities to work in other departments. Because staffing is an extremely complex process that is based on many factors, this “simple” program is enabled by a huge technological effort behind the scenes. This is another example where creative thinking and technology are brought together to make a tremendous positive impact.
There are many other great examples of how Walmart is changing the game, but the point here is not to list all of them. Instead, it is to convey that everyone has a chance make a meaningful impact and be part of something bigger. Whether you are an unloader, engineer, truck driver, pharmacist, or in one of the thousands of others jobs, every role matters and in their own way each person can contribute to these and other important efforts to make not only work, but also peoples lives better.
Why do you do what you do?
When I was young and naïve (well, perhaps just more naïve…) I thought I was going to become a stockbroker and hardcore businessman. But I was also fascinated with psychology and how it can help us understand how to bring out the best in people. That led me to find a little known field called Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Quite simply, it is about the psychology of the workplace. Turns out that HR hires these people, and that’s how I got started.
What kind of art (any kind) do you like and why? Any recommendations we should know about?
Nature is by far the best art. It provides an endless tapestry of amazing and inspirational views. If I have to pick an actual artist, I’m a fan of MC Escher and Yaacov Agam (I think it’s because of the psychologist in me). Both of them make you think differently about what you see. What you see at first may not actually be what matters most. In other words, their art, like people, are complex and it is important to find that which matters the most.
What is one specific thing your company does that makes your culture unique and/or different?
Sam Walton founded Walmart and is widely regarded as one of the most astute business people in history. In addition to his sound business principles, he realized the importance of listening to employees. This legacy carries on today through several important programs. One of these is called the Open Door. What this means is that any employee in the company can use the Open Door to reach out to any manager — all the way up to the CEO — with any issue they may have. This ensures that every employee has voice and a way to connect with leadership.
Another method of listening to employee is through the annual engagement survey. With over 2 million employees around the world it would be easy to understand that it is too difficult to seek feedback from all of them, but then much would be missed. With this in mind, every year each associate has an opportunity to participate in the survey (amazingly, nearly 90% choose to do so) and provide their input related to critical areas of the work environment. From this, managers then hold meetings with associates to discuss the findings and agree to an action plan to address the feedback. Beyond the usual tracking of action plans, we have another unique element to the survey to ensure it is being acted upon. One question asks associates if the prior results were communicated, and another if meaningful action was taken. Not surprisingly, the most engaged associates report that the prior results were not only communicated, but also led to meaningful action.
What is one discipline/industry totally different from your own that has inspired you? How does it impact your work?
I wouldn’t say it is any specific discipline or industry that has inspired me; instead it is stories of amazing resilience and persistence to rise above and succeed when the odds are against you. These stories often come from the military and sports. I always draw inspiration from people who do extraordinary things in the most extreme and high-pressure situations imaginable.
What’s one tangible and concrete technique other organizations should use if they want to create a more human and/or meaningful place to work?
Remember that every employee is a person first. It is easy to become desensitized based on the news and numbers, but always going back and remembering the impact of programs and policies will ensure you keep your human touch and lead with humility first.
What piece of technology (other than your laptop/smartphone/tablet) could you not live without and why?
My rangefinder for golf or DVR. I’m probably not a good enough golf that it actually improves my score, but it at least makes me think I am more accurate than I really am with my shots! I am not sure I could watch much TV with my schedule these days without DVR. Not only does recording save a ton of time by letting me skip commercials, I can watch something whenever I have time (usually at night when my girls are sleeping).
What do you do for fun?
For me nothing beats spending time with my family and being outdoors. Whether it’s going out on the boat, learning to ride a bike, or anything in between.
What time of the day do you do your best work?
This one seems to be evolving. I’ll never be a morning person, but it seems like as you age it becomes more necessary to get stuff done early. My best time, though, will always be at night.
Where in the world are you?
How can people connect with you?
My website liveyourtrajectory.com has most of my details for social media including Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. I can also be contacted the “old fashioned” way with email at dlvanrooy at gmail dot com.
David Van Rooy
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