Change Happens Through People – Even at Walmart

Part 1 of 4:

Marc Gunther just reviewed Force of Change, the story of Walmart’s conversion to sustainable business practices. When the world’s largest public corporation makes any big change, it’s noteworthy. But this change could very well help save the world. It’s not just the direct environmental impact of Walmart’s new business practices, but the ripple these changes make in the company’s massive supply chain and the signal they send to other companies about the critical importance of sustainability.

What I believe is particularly interesting about this story is that the company’s decision to shift it practices was influenced by the personal experiences of the company’s top leadership.

We often think of institutions like Walmart as huge, soulless machines. But it’s important to remember that there are real people running these organizations, and that personal experiences and personal relationships can have a very large impact on these people and the decisions they make about the institutions they lead.

In this case we find Peter Seligmann, the founder of Conservation International, opening the door for consultant Jib Ellison through a relationship he had with Walmart’s chairman, Rob Walton. Ellison is the influencer who creates some of the personal experiences that help Walmart initiate its big shift. Seligmann is the connector who gets Ellison in the door.

Though we may not see it this way all the time, each of us have a huge stake in our ability to create change. The type of change we seek will vary considerably. For some, our aim is large-scale social change that takes years or even decades to carry out. For others, it’s motivating customers to adopt a new technology or a new ways of doing things.

Change can be personal or institutional in nature, and usually it’s a bit of both. Personal change is powerful and important, and as the Walmart story illustrates, it’s usually an essential ingredient in institutional change. What makes institutional change so important though, is that, when we change an institution, we also change the behavior of its employees, customers and other stakeholders. It’s tough to do, but institutional works like a huge lever, capable of moving very large objects…

…Like Walmart.


Up next…(June 20) Part 2 of 4 – 5 Steps to Influence Mapping

Part 1:   Change Happens Through People – Even at Walmart
Part 2:   5 Steps to Influence Mapping (June 20)
Part 3:   Influence: the Flip Side of Permeability (June 22)
Part 4:   How to Strengthen Your Organization’s Influence Mapping (June 24)