CHICAGO -- Wal-Mart Stores, Bentonville, Ark., boosted labor productivity and slashed employee turnover rates in half after introducing a multimedia computer-based training program.
The company, which tracks labor productivity in terms of sales per man hour, saw gains of 5% after training systems were revamped, said Kevin Turner, vice president of applications development and store systems.
Turner outlined the program, based on compact disc recordable technology, during a presentation at Retail Systems '95, a retail technology and automation conference held here last month.
Wal-Mart's employees worldwide now receive task-specific instruction from personal computers in the stores, he said. Training modules are recorded on magneto optical diskettes -- or recordable CD -- which are updated systemwide from the home office to stores via satellite.
"This is something very few companies have been able to figure out: how you can remotely update the kind of data we're talking about, electronically," Turner said. The chain's library of training modules has grown to 50 since introducing the program two years ago.
The training program's prime drivers were the company's explosive growth -- sales jumped from $67.3 billion in 1994 to $82.5 billion in fiscal year 1995 -- and the need to provide ongoing training for enough cashiers to populate a large American city.
"When you layer on $15 billion [in sales] in one year, that's the equivalent of acquiring a Fortune 40 company. The new associates
that it takes to handle that kind of growth is a training opportunity in and of itself," he said.
Numerous system and procedural changes implemented at the point of sale presented a particular training challenge: "To give you an idea of the amount and variety of changes, [consider] that last year we had 24 different POS releases where we changed the functionality on the front end of our stores. I'm talking about 500,000 cashiers that we had to retrain 24 times.
Because Wal-Mart's vast employee population has diverse skill sets and levels, achieving training consistency was a particular challenge, he said. To captivate trainees' attention so they can retain the information presented in a training session, the chain decided to "fun it up," Turner said.
Full-motion video clips, such as the space shuttle Discovery launch, backed by lush music and inspirational narrative, are featured in the training modules.
Employees are indoctrinated into the Wal-Mart culture via video clips of founder Sam Walton, who in one segment leads a group of associates in the company pledge that stresses customer service.
Such tactics have proven helpful to employees trying to absorb information -- and computer-based training allows them to do so at their own pace, Turner said.
Turner emphasized that information systems staff can no longer remain detached from training issues.
"Training has been something -- from an information systems perspective -- that we've put at the feet of operations folks. These are no longer choices we can afford to make because with the investment we're putting into information technology, we are now responsible and accountable for the payback that's involved."