He’s the president of Wal-Mart’s Northeast Division, a 600-store,
180,000-employee cog in the world’s largest retail chain, which
produced $374 billion in sales in 2007. Mullany’s divisional footprint stretches from Maine to Virginia, encompassing the metropolitan areas of Boston, New York and Philadelphia and making
him the head of a giant within a giant. Yet, with nearly a quarter-million employees under his umbrella, Mullany still must take big-picture corporate concepts and make them personal for his people — many of whom he’ll never meet beyond a handshake during
one of his store visits. If that doesn’t happen, initiatives don’t get
executed and Wal-Mart won’t succeed.
“If we want something to happen and get it executed, it happens
with the people in the stores,” Mullany says. “The best programs
and strategies in the world aren’t going to happen without execution. (The stores) are where people meet Wal-Mart. I’m not Wal-Mart to our customers. The people in the stores are Wal-Mart.”
Here’s how Mullany drives Wal-Mart’s vision to his employees
through training, communication and delegation to enable his
employees to pursue their ideas, furthering Wal-Mart’s mission in
Develop your employees
Mullany calls it “executional excellence.” The word might be
made-up, but the reasoning behind it is very real.
In order for a vision to mean anything, it has to be executed effectively, which means you need employees who are compelled to follow the leader and you need to put benchmarks in place to measure
your company’s ability to achieve your vision.
“It’s about creating a weekly cadence of accountability —
what are the key performance indicators that tell us if we’re
achieving our strategic plan and our vision?” Mullany says. “But it
also helps if you can create a compelling vision, something that is
exciting and people can get behind. It will help your employees if
you can create the kind of company where there is a compelling
Simply put, you’re not going to be able to hold employees
accountable for executing the vision without first getting them to
embrace it. For Mullany, it starts with training. Through continual
training, Mullany and his leadership team help employees develop
their skill sets, increasing their sense of purpose in the organization. Motivated employees, in turn, are better at embracing the
vision and executing on it.
“The key is working with the people you have currently,” he
says. “A key challenge for us is making sure we develop the talent to grow our business, which is something that applies to
just about any business. We’ve implemented mentoring programs where I and all of the leaders in the Northeast Division
are mentoring at least four people to groom them so they can
receive additional responsibility. We’ve implemented additional training programs, partnering with our home office and our
internal training team, which we call ‘Wal-Mart University.’
We’ve also developed new positions called ‘developmental
roles,’ where employees are really getting focused with on-thejob training, and in time, they can become a manager.”
Some people come forward and let their leadership-oriented
ambitions be known to their superiors. But in many cases, you
have to do some scouting. That’s why Mullany coaches his store
managers to keep tabs on the managerial potential of their best
and brightest people.
“Some people come forward and clearly state that they want to
be promoted, that they want to become a department manager
or assistant manager,” he says. “But we’ll ask the supervisors to
identify which people are doing an outstanding job and would
be willing to assume additional responsibilities.
“For any business to be successful, you have to make sure you
can retain good people. Your best people have embraced the
core values and know what is important to the business. That’s
why we’re looking to keep good people, grow them and promote
Let ideas flourish
Communication must be a two-way street between employees
and management. If you make time to tell your employees what’s
on your mind, you must make time so they can do the same with
Mullany says he believes ideas must have avenues through which
to flow upward in a business. Some ideas won’t fit your plans, but
some could become best practices throughout the company.
“We had an idea in the Northeast Division about how to lay out
the produce departments in the stores,” he says. “It came from one
of my regional general managers. I told him it sounded interesting
and we’d try to pilot it in a couple of markets.
“We tested it, and it worked. Then we expanded it to the entire
Northeast Division, and more than 600 stores tried it with similar
great results. We shared that with the rest of the Wal-Mart system,
and the system that was thought up by one regional general manager is now how we set up produce departments nationwide.”
Mullany’s bottom-up philosophy for generating ideas has helped
spawn other initiatives at Wal-Mart, among them a national Wal-Mart blog where employees and managers can share their ideas,
giving updates on what is working and not working.
“It’s powerful for an associate to see their idea implemented,”
he says. “That’s why you need to let your employees reach all the
way to the top of the organization. Here, an associate can speak
directly to a member of management, all the way up to me, and
even up to ... the CEO of Wal-Mart. It’s about having an environment where people feel open to sharing new ideas.”
But, as is often communicated by leaders in all types of businesses, innovation can’t occur in a vacuum. You want your
employees to produce and share ideas, but you don’t want them to
get off track with regard to the company mission and goals. It
requires a balance between showing appreciation for all contributions but also developing a selective eye about what you’re going
Mullany has a number of barometers in place for deciding on whether to utilize a new idea.
“The key is you want to make sure that you stay true to your mission,” he says. “If a new idea isn’t going to further the mission,
that’s kind of the first filter. We also want to make sure that what
we’re doing lines up with our brand strategy and how we’re going
The best way to keep your employees’ creative juices flowing
while keeping the company on track is to remind them of where
the company is headed.
“Part of leadership is clearly communicating the goals and strategies,” Mullany says. “You have to keep your messages clear and
simple. What is simple is understood, and what is understood gets
executed thoroughly. You need to narrow the focus of your messages down to the few critical things that are really important.
Make sure the message is consistent, repeat the message, and I’ve
also found that it’s helpful to deliver the message via multiple
media. That means I’ll do video messages, speeches, meetings in
person, I’ll visit the stores. I’ll also make sure that my entire team
reinforces and delivers the message.”
Good communication plays into effective delegation. There is
more than one way you can delegate responsibility to your
employees, so you have to make yourself clear on what you want.
“One type of delegation is that you’re telling someone to decide
what to do, then inform you about the progress,” Mullany says.
“Another kind is to tell someone to make a decision, then go ahead
with it — don’t inform me. A third type is to tell someone to make
a recommendation and we’ll work together on it. A fourth would
be to make a recommendation on it, but I’ll make the decision.
“So it’s important to avoid miscommunication and bad feelings,
and to make sure that doesn’t happen, people need to understand
the level of delegation you’re handing them. Then, when you delegate, you need to delegate both the responsibility and the authority to make it happen. If you delegate the responsibility and not the
authority, whatever you were planning isn’t going to happen, and
you are going to put the person in a no-win situation.”
Even if you’ve given others control over a project or department,
you need to keep supplying them with resources, which means
you need to stay in contact with them. Part of delegating authority
is giving them the authority to contact their superiors and request
what they need to get the job done.
“A leader has to make sure the person has what they need to do
the job,” Mullany says. “That includes the information, the authority and the understanding among everyone that this person has your
“In some cases, I might know upfront the resources they need. In
most cases, they’ll start executing the project or whatever it is, and
I’ll tell them to come back if they need any help. They might come
back and tell me that they’ve started, but they need more information, more money or more time. But they need to understand from
me that my door is open and that we in management want dialogue and feedback. If they understand that, they’ll feel comfortable with coming back to management.”
Along with communication, training is a key component in
grooming employees capable of receiving delegated responsibility
and authority. A leader will not be able to deliver the best results
without a properly prepared team.
“The most critical element of delegation is to surround yourself with great people who you trust,” Mullany says. “The
stronger the team and the higher the trust factor, the more you
will have managers willing to delegate and people who are willing to take on that responsibility.
“The best business lesson I’ve learned is to surround yourself
with good people. I’ve seen leaders who have great people and had great results. But I’ve also seen very smart individuals who
didn’t have a good team and didn’t deliver the results.”
You have to develop your people, which means they have to
have confidence in the company’s leaders. That comes back to a
common theme in business: “Promise what you’ll deliver, and
then deliver what you promised,” Mullany says.
“That’s important to me. I have that on the wall of my office,
right next to my door, so people see it when they walk in to my
office and know that’s what I believe.”
HOW TO REACH: Wal-Mart Stores Inc., www.Wal-Mart.com