3 Questions About Company Purpose With Brian Poland, Former Talent Pro at Walmart

adrian on education

In this blog series, CEO and Co-founder Adrian Ridner interviews learning and development leaders across the industry for their perspectives on professional development, recruiting, company purpose and more. Today, Adrian chats with talent management professional and lifelong learning expert Brian Poland about the importance of company purpose.

Brian Poland has been leading learning and talent teams for more than 25 years. Brian served as the Senior Learning, Talent and Education Leader for Walmart stores, both in the U.S. and internationally. Just some of his areas of specialization include talent management and development, learning technology, distance learning, measuring learning impact and organizational effectiveness.

Learning and talent expert Brian Poland
Brian Poland

Adrian Ridner: Why is it important to incorporate purpose into company culture?

Brian Poland: Organizations can be successful with a great culture or a great strategy, but world-class organizations integrate culture and strategy with purpose to achieve exceptional results and employee engagement. As the Senior Learning & Talent Leader within a Fortune 1 company, I was fortunate to witness the power of this synergy, not only at Walmart but at the companies we chose to benchmark and partner with over the years.

AR: How can companies create a strong sense of purpose?

BP: One characteristic that I found was always present in great companies was a clearly articulated purpose and culture that drove strategy and employee engagement. For Walmart, it was to ''save money, live better'' - a purpose direct from the founder himself. For Disney, ''create happiness,'' and Starbucks, ''to inspire and nurture the human spirit - one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.''

The power of a strong purpose is that it cannot ever be fully achieved. The culture of the organization is formed around the defining purpose and this drives the behavior and voice of leaders, employees and even customers. Purpose inspires continuous change and a strive for excellence. This foundation of purpose drives a culture of learning, continuous improvement, employee engagement, and attracts and retains employees.

Company purpose plays an important role in the workforce

AR: How did you first realize the significant role that purpose plays within an organization?

BP: In the late '90s, Walmart's reputation for customer service was high enough to earn an invitation from the DOD to present at the Army Special Operations Command in Fort Bragg, NC. The DOD, which commands the Military's Retail Exchange, was interested in benchmarking with Walmart on how we achieved great customer service at scale. At the time, Walmart was still very private about internal business practices but when the DOD calls, you tend to listen. A colleague and I packed up and headed to Moon Hall at Fort Bragg, ready to share our thoughts.

As requested, we presented in detail the training materials and process used to educate millions of Walmart employees on the basics of customer service. Even in the '90s, this included engaging online videos, job aids, and early e-learning. After considerable discussion with senior leadership of replicating similar programs within their organization, the true driver of Walmart's success came to light. It wasn't the programs themselves that drove success, although they were good programs. The driver of employee engagement to serve the customer was the daily focus on purpose, which was executed through the company's three basic beliefs.

Our final recommendation for the DOD was to focus the majority of their energy on purpose first (the why), and then support the mission with the right strategies and resources (the how). In the end, it is a clear focus on a meaningful purpose and visible follow-through by leadership that drives lasting behavior change and cultural success.

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About Adrian Ridner

Fed up with the high cost of education, Adrian Ridner started with the mission of making education affordable, effective and engaging. Today, the Mountain View based startup not only helps students from elementary school through college with its unique online learning platform, but it also provides a flexible, convenient way for employees to develop their professional skills.

By Adrian Ridner
October 2018
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