Spiral Dynamics: vMeme of Walmart

1. Introduction

The concept of leadership at organizational level emerged few centuries before, in order to manage employees at large. According to Fraser and Cole (2004), studies of leadership styles and their impacts on different stakeholders of organization emerged in 17th century. Today, organizations and leaders believe that organizational goals can only be accomplished if employees are treated as precious asset, rather than as machines. According to Hayashi and Ewert (2006), leadership is an interpersonal influence of one individual or group on others through the process of communication for attaining collective organizational goals. Nowadays, when people are more conscious about their self-esteem and respect than material benefits, the need for changing leadership style to manage such people has gained momentum. This report discusses leadership and value system of Walmart. It argues that the vMeme of Walmart is red as the company implements authoritarian leadership style and culture. Walmart is facing the challenge of reduced job satisfaction of employees, which translates into high employee turnover. It is suggested that to overcome this problem, Walmart needs to adopt green vMeme of walmart. 


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2. Classification of Leadership Styles and Personnel Management

Leadership and personnel management styles have been classified into different types by academic researcher (Eagly et al., 2003). However, the concept behind each set of classification is different. Existence of various leadership styles show that leaders take different approaches to deal with their subordinates and achieve goals of organization. Pradeep and Prabhu (2011) discuss different leadership styles and their impacts on performance of employees, as discussed below:

2.1. Democratic Leadership Style

Democratic leadership style is observed in organizations where decision-making is decentralized. According to Marken (1999), democratic leaders seek the ideas and suggestions pf group members whom they lead, by taking their input for decision making. This type of leaders can be associated with the McGregor’s theory Y as discussed by Galanes and Adams (2010), who mention that people work harder for tasks when they perceive it as their own. Consequently, by involving employees in decision making and taking their views for accomplishing different tasks, employees feel motivated, thereby boosting their performance.

2.2. Autocratic Leadership Style

According to Galanes and Adams (2010), this type of leaders like to monitor their subordinates closely, by giving orders and directing every interaction of group. They do not normally ask personnel to suggest the means of resolving an issue or getting things done, but they decide first and then communicate their decision to the group. This kind of leaders can be associated theory X given by McGregor (1960). Galanes and Adams (2010) mention one advantage of autocratic leadership style, by highlighting that when employees are unfamiliar, unconcerned or dissuaded to perform a particular task, they can perform better under autocratic leadership. However, in all other cases, there are high chances that employees will perform poorly under autocratic leadership style, as discussed by De Cremer (2006).

2.3. Laissez Faire Leadership Style

The definition of Laissez Faire leaders has been given by Galanes and Adams (2010). The authors stated that laissez-faire leaders do not take any initiative for structuring or organizing their group, but only respond when a query is made by a group member. Marken (1999) argued that these are hands-off leaders, however, they are considered as a core source of authority and information within a group. The author has discussed that high professional, responsible and well-trained staff can perform more efficiently under laissez-faire leaders, instead of working under democratic or autocratic leaders.

3. Leadership Value Systems and Structures

vMEMEs leadership value systems were firstly presented by Dr. Clare Graves, which help in determining the leadership style and cultural responses to different internal and external challenges faced by individuals or organizations (Rosado, 2004). Every organization has one dominant leadership value system that it practices for an extended period of time, and other less dominant system that is still emerging and the entire organization has not adopted it completely.

In the case of large organizations like Walmart in which leaders cannot communicate with other managers or employees of organization, red value system is dominant, while green value system is less dominant as shown in the figure given below.

FIGURE – 1 Dominant and Less-Dominant Leadership Value System at Walmart

3.1. Impact of Leadership Value System on Staff, Management and Leaders

Walmart, one of the biggest retailers in the world, uses an autocratic leadership style that is red value system (Gill, 2014). According to Rosado (2004), red value system is power-driven. These leaders do not believe in anyone but themselves. They do not want to listen to or value the opinions of others if these opinions are not relevant to their own views. According to Gill (2014), autocratic leadership style is highly directive and has been criticized largely, however, it is necessary to be adopted by leaders and managers in different scenarios. The author has discussed that it is necessary for an organization to adopt autocratic leadership when 1) labor is not highly experienced, 2) a large number of employees that cannot be handled directly, and 3) management and leaders demand error-free business operations. This dominant leadership value system of Walmart has brought serious problems for the company at different points of its operations (Lichtenstein, 2011). For instance, it has been discussed that Walmart has encountered lawsuits for practicing authoritarian or autocratic leadership style and culture, which have caused problems for leadership and management of the organization (Lichtenstein, 2011). As the vMeme of Walmart is red, employees of the company feel dissatisfied due to the perceived atrocities of leadership on them. In red MEME, leadership considers people as a ‘thing’ that can be purchased with a price, due to which the employees working in Walmart are losing their commitment towards the job. As it is discussed by Han et al. (2010) that centralized decision-making and treating employees like things demotivate them to perform their work. So, it will not be wrong saying that red vMEME of Walmart is affecting the psychological well-being and professional productivity of its employees negatively.

According to Robertson (2016), the management is squeezed between red vMEME observing leaders and unsatisfied employees at Walmart. Due to red vMEME, leaders of Walmart want to beat competition at any cost without involving employees in decision making process. Such attitude not only demotivates employees but also decreases their commitment, which creates problem for management to tackle employee and leadership relationship for achieving organizational goals.

4. Challenges for Walmart

Due to the rigid leadership style and mismanagement of human capital at different levels, Walmart has been facing different managerial, legal and commercial challenges. According to Workplace Fairness Organization (2017), these issues include lack of job satisfaction in workers because of: 1) Walmart’s anti-union policies and unfair employee firing schemes, 2) exploitation of workers and negligence of international labor rights, 3) low wage rate, and 4) cruel treatment of leaders towards employees. Pablos (2015, pp. 113) also explained that Walmart’s workforce sued it for low wages, poor treatment of employees and its anti-union policies. These issues are reflected in the fact that Walmart has 70% employee turnover, while some of its competitors like Costco have less than 5% turnover (Downes, 2013, pp. 195).

Another major challenge for the organization is legal in nature that is due to 1) violation of wage laws, 2) violation of international labor organization’s policies, 3) workplace discrimination against specific gender and ethnic group. An example of this type of lawsuits against Walmart is discussed by Lichtenstein (2011) when around 1.6 million female employees including both former and current employees of Walmart went to court against the company for discriminating attitude of authoritarian leaders. Another major issue is discussed by Lichtenstein (2011) who stated that leadership style issue of Walmart has a secondary issue, while the core issue is its culture and business model. Men are getting more tenure opportunities and wages than women at Walmart, which has become a source of disappointment and lack of job satisfaction for majority of female workers in the company. According to Mourdoukoutas (2016), another challenge faced by Walmart is fierce competition from e-commerce competitors like Amazon. This challenge has emerged due to the reason that employees of Walmart have little to no training for providing services, which is damaging its customer base badly.

4.1. Lack of Satisfaction of Employees

As discussed earlier, adoption of red vMeme by Walmart has brought several challenges. The biggest and most attention grabbing challenge is the lack of satisfaction of employees toward their jobs. Lack of employee satisfaction can be attributed to autocratic leadership style. Lack of employee satisfaction is due to the low wage rates, inappropriate behavior with employees and lack of safety measures, as implied from Downes (2013, pp. 195) and Pablos (2015, pp. 113). As the vMeme of Walmart is red characterized by an autocratic leadership style, it is considering its employees as low-level human beings. Management is neither considering nor fulfilling employees’ rights. The employees are paid low wages which reduces their job satisfaction (Workplace Fairness Organization, 2017).

Again, due to autocratic leadership, management assumes that workers are lazy by nature, and managers can do whatever they feel right to get work from employees. Due to this thinking of management, time and again it has been reported that some of the employees were abused by their supervisors (Workplace Fairness Organization, 2017; Miles, 2013). This environment of lack of respect of employees is leading towards the lack of satisfaction. Employees are treated harshly, as management is concerned with profits and productivity in terms of outcomes; employees of Walmart function under poor working conditions (McVeigh, 2014)). In some of the cases, management cruelty has been recorded, as the employees were not provided with proper safety measures including gloves to fabric cutters or seamstresses (Workplace Fairness Organization, 2017).

To avoid such issues which stem from autocratic environment, it is high time for management to foster a democratic environment and move towards the application of green meme. In green meme, management should try to satisfy employees by giving them rewards equally and fairly. In the proposed green meme, employees should be given the same priority and respect as the management. Furthermore, management should take a friendly and supportive approach. By applying green meme, management should consider basic security needs of employees and should give them proper safety measure as per the requirements of a specific task, as implied from Mourdoukoutas (2016). Application of these democratic environments would increase employee satisfaction.

4.2. Value Systems and Variation in Memes

Modes of leadership also affect the value systems that can be open, arrested or closed. In open-minded system, one meme system dominates the organization, but it also accepts valuable information from outside. In arrested value system, only the information from the very next level meme is accepted. In closed ended system, no information outside of current meme is accepted (Rosado, 2004). Regarding Walmart, transition from red meme to green meme means developing an open-ended value system in Walmart.

Walmart is currently dominated by the red vMeme culture, which is creating problems for the organization. It is not feasible for Walmart to follow this culture in long run, as employees, in current times, have gained awareness about basic rights. Furthermore, with increase in employment alternatives, employees have choice to switch their job.

5. Recommendations

The management of Walmart needs to change its behavior and leadership styles, to fit in the green vMEME. Employees should be treated with respect, and they should be given equal importance and incentives. For example, in peak sale seasons, employees should be paid commission with the increased number of sales. Also, feedback and opinions of employees should be valued. In current times, employees need to be valued as much as they need incentives, to stay motivated (Mahajan, 2016, pp. 131).

6. Reflection and Plan for Development:

The only permanent thing in today’s dynamic business world is change; nonetheless, it is necessary for businesses to adapt to change. According to Todnem By (2005), an organization which does not adapt to change is prone to failure. Globalization triggers change not only in terms of increased competition and technological advancements, but also by changing organizational culture.  

In past, researchers and management solely focused on discussing the role of a leader to administer employees working under their supervision. Leaders were considered as sole body for taking and implementing decisions. However, Hayashi and Ewert (2006) discss that employees cannot be considered as machines in an integrated and globalized world. I construe that companies, which had been practicing very rigid policies for managing their people, are now tending to practice participative leadership style for keeping their human capital motivated and satisfied. 

6.1. Leadership Value Systems and Structures

By studying leadership value systems, I have started believing that both internal and external challenges force an organization to change. I agree with Rosado (2004) who argued that internal factors include culture and stakeholders’ expectations, while external challenges include intervention of third party and integration of business world. A “value system” is an organization of framework and mindset for making a deep-level decision at the lower level of organizations. Through vMEMEs colors discussed by Rosado (2004), I have learned that cooler color MEMEs are ‘we-oriented’ or focus on everyone collectively. On the other hand, warm color MEMEs have an individualistic approach or are “me-oriented”.

Grave has developed a value system framework based on 8 colors. I have learned that these value systems have serious implications for leaders to perform their duties appropriately and respond to internal and external challenges successfully, as stressed by Beck and Cowan (2014). A leader does not influence himself and his subordinates, but his decisions influence the whole organization. So, the attitude of the leader must not be like the personality and attitude portrayed by red MEME. But a leader must follow green, blue or turquoise MEMEs, which are not egocentric but believe in justice and equality of human beings and their ideas. However, some institutes like military are bound to adopt more autocratic styles.

6.2. Walmart’s Leadership Value Systems

Through different sources discussed in the report, it has been ascertained that Walmart has adopted an autocratic leadership style or red MEME leadership value system. I have concluded that Walmart has faced several troubles due to its rigid behavior. Walmart has taken a harsh approach towards employees which reflects in its high turn-over rate. Hence, I have learnt that to retain employees, leaders need to take participative approaches and value employees. For example, in case of Walmart, it is already trying to adopt contemporary and adaptive leadership style. According to Advise America (2017), Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, ascertained this threat years ago and started incorporating participative leadership. However, until date, Walmart has not adopted participative leadership style and culture completely; upon reflecting on this, I realize that organizations need to devise plans for changing cultures and develop action plans that can be implemented. Nonetheless, after studying Walmart, I believe that transformational and situational leadership styles are more appropriate for Multi-National organizations, in order to compete in current era. Similarly, they should adopt memes that encourage employee participation, as employees need to be valued.   

6.3. Ways to Become an Effective Democratic Leader

There are different components of the personality and attitude of a leader that make him a democratic leader. This kind of leaders allows free flow of ideas and discussion. These leaders are hired by the companies with decentralized decision making, where all employees from the top level to bottom level of organization participate in decision making by expressing their ideas. This participation of employees in decision making and company’s affairs help it to brainstorm new ideas and feel a sense of ownership. This leadership style results in enhanced employees’ motivation level and job satisfaction (Bhatti et al., 2012). After studying this module, I want to become a democratic leader. I intend to practice democratic leadership style when I lead and manage teams in organization. I have decided to take following steps, in order to become an effective democratic leader

  • Firstly, as participative or democratic leaders need to ignore personal bias and any kind of gender or ethnic discrimination, so I should learn to treat people equally. Furthermore, I should start valuing the ideas and experiences of my subordinates like I value my own ideas.
  • Secondly, a democratic leader leads by example. Instead of using force and punishment, he attracts his subordinates to follow him by adopting a style which appeals them. So, I need to polish my identity and personality according to the expectations of my job and my team. In order to achieve this goal, I can ask for help from my seniors and attend different conferences to generate more realistic and different ideas. I believe that it will be challenging for me to become an inspiring person, as I am shy. However, I have decided to study some books for becoming inspirational leader.
  • Thirdly, a democratic leader must not only be a good speaker only also he must be able to listen carefully to views of people around him. So, I need to enhance my interpersonal skills for communicating with the team. Specifically, I need to practice active listening.

I believe that by taking measures mentioned above, I will be able to develop my personality in a manner that benefits my profession.
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