It’s been twenty-one years since Sam Walton passed away. His Ten Rules for Building a Business are still posted on Wal-Mart’s web site…but are they living up to them?

Original Wal-Mart Sam Walton
How is Wal-Mart doing today with Sam Walton’s Ten Rules for Building a Business? Find out here: http://bit.ly/1a64s4Z (Tweet That)

Sam Walton’s Ten Rules for Building a Business are found in his book, Sam Walton: Made In America.

Let’s look at each of them one by one and see where Wal-Mart stands today. Regardless of whether they still practice these principles, it doesn’t change the truth of them. They are excellent primers for all business leaders.

1. Commit to your business.

As a leader, you have to believe in your business more than anyone else does. If you aren’t the leader, believing in the business more than anyone else does goes a long way towards becoming a leader.

Commitment means passion, intensity, and willingness to sacrifice for the business.

I do believe that those at the top at Wal-Mart have committed themselves to the cause, Wal-Mart’s success. But has it trickled down? Have they created a culture in which each and every team member is committed? Definitely not and I think it’s related to a failure in principle two.

2. Share profits with your employees.

“Employees” are partners. They are team members. The cashiers, stockers, and store managers are the only people 99.99% of us encounter with Wal-Mart. Most of us don’t hang out with their CEO.

I believe this is one of the areas where Wal-Mart has struggled. I’m not going to theorize about whether they should pay more, provide better health care, or whatever. But I will say this…team members who are unhappy with their pay or benefits rarely perform to the level at which they are capable of performing. And it shows to the customer (you know what I am talking about).

3. Motivate your partners.

This is about more than money. This is about pushing people to achieve more than they ever thought possible.

I believe, on the whole, that Wal-Mart excels here. They are legendary for promoting within. Twenty-five year olds are managing hundreds of millions of dollars in merchandise each year. Five years prior they were cashiers.

Sam Walton Made in American Ten Rules for Building a Business
For Sam’s view on all ten rules, read his book. It’s definitely worth the read.

The opportunity for advancement is one of the greatest motivators there is and Wal-Mart seems to be doing a phenomenal job in this area.

4. Communicate everything you possibly can to your employees.

Communicating everything means demonstrating open leadership. It means sharing information you don’t want to share. It means sharing sometimes sensitive information and trusting your team with it. It means sharing your failures and asking for help. Leaders who do those things usually find that it pays huge dividends in team loyalty and performance.

Sam Walton was a big advocate of overcommunication with his team. I can’t speak to the information sharing at the higher levels of Wal-Mart, but it appears this principle has been lost with the frontline team members.

5. Appreciate everything your associates do for the business.

This is the part that goes beyond principle #2 (share profits). You have to let every single team member know that their role and their performance is valuable and critical to the team’s performance. The salesperson doesn’t get a chance to sell if the person answering the phone is rude. And if that person is phenomenal, the salesperson’s job is that much easier.

Practice catching team members doing things right and thank them. Find success stories and follow principle #6.

The average associate at Wal-Mart today suffers from small fish, big pond syndrome. In an operation of the size of Wal-Mart, it’s easy to forget the necessity and contributions of frontline team members. This is an area where Sam Walton would definitely like to see some improvement.

We’ll cover principles 6-10 tomorrow.

6. Celebrate your successes.
7. Listen to everyone in your company, and figure out ways to get them talking.
8. Exceed your customers’ expectations.
9. Control your expenses better than your competition.
10. Swim upstream.

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Until then…

Which of these principles do you feel Wal-Mart has succeeded at the most? The least?


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17 thoughts on “What Would Sam Walton Think of Today’s Wal-Mart? | Ten Rules

  1. Ken Porter says:

    I agree on all of these. They have succeeded in many of these areas (#3 for example) but failed over the years in others. That seems to be common with huge corporations over time and it shows as they recently had their first quarterly loss in their existence.

  2. Katherine Leicester says:

    So fun to talk about Wal Mart, isn’t it!

    I lived halfway between two Wal Marts, and the difference was striking. One was a ghetto, inside and out. The other was a clean, full, well-staffed, well-lit store full of friendly, knowledgeable people who probably couldn’t compete for more challenging or higher paying work.

    I don’t know what Wal Mart pays their team members, but what I see is that wages have little to do with the service in any given store. They could double what they pay and I suggest it would have virtually no outward effect.

    The trouble with Wal Mart doesn’t seem to be the wages. It’s the leadership. IMHO.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      I think that is true for every single company on the face of the earth. If there is a problem, it’s a failure of leadership.

      1. Mark Sieverkropp says:


    2. Joe Lalonde says:

      It’s interesting seeing the huge differences between two of the same store, huh? Growing up we had two Meijer stores (They’re a Michigan/regional store) and the difference between the two stores were astounding as well.

      1. Matt McWilliams says:

        Hey I know all about Meijer now living in the Midwest 🙂

        You might be interested in the books about the founder, Hendrik Meijer. Great American story.

      2. Joe Lalonde says:

        It’s one of the best stores around, huh? We always hear stories from friends and family who move away and miss the store.

        I’ll have to check that book out. Always great to read about local success stories.

      3. Matt McWilliams says:

        It’s Walmart with better selection, cleaner, more organic foods, and less weirdos. 🙂

  3. Jon Stolpe says:

    I’m not a huge WalMart guy, but it seems they’ve at least succeeded on Item #1.

    As for the other principles, they seem like great principles to follow in running your business. I especially like #5 as it goes quite well with the Thank You Revolution.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      What is this Revolution you speak of? 😉

      1. Jon Stolpe says:

        Can’t wait for tomorrow! Guess what day it is? Guess what day it is? TYT (Thank You Thursday)! Oh yeah!

  4. Mark Sieverkropp says:

    Wow. If Walmart followed all of these principles today you wouldn’t hear the phrase “I hate Walmart” so often…

    Thanks for sharing these Matt. Walmart, I think, is an example of losing touch with its core principles in too many instances!

  5. Joe Lalonde says:

    I think they’ve really stuck to being committed to the business. The way they’ve been able to expand and grow shows a huge commitment.

  6. Steve Pate says:

    I don’t know what they are doing best, oh wait, not getting my business.

    But I do love Sam Walton’s story. going to other stores learning from them, seeing needs of his customers. And wanting to see his staff grow. I love the story of him driving his old truck even when he was wealthy, it goes to show, his heart was in the right place.

    I do find it amazing, people will ask , “is there a Wal-Mart in your area” instead of asking for a store. Wal-Mart has done a great job of marketing and placement in towns. It seems your almost not a town if you don’t a Wal-Mart in your area.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      You know…great point. They’ve made people dependent on them. Some call that evil. I call it brilliant.

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