Donna Morris of Walmart on Leadership in Rapidly Changing Environment

Integrity, passion, and teamwork – these are the values that Walmart looks for in its employees and fosters through its talent management. Donna Morris, Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer at Walmart, discusses the world’s largest retailer’s priorities when selecting future leadership pipeline, and why companies who hire a diverse talent do better than others.

Donna Morris of Walmart

Donna Morris Most Influential CHROs Powerlist


The HR Digest: You have been critical in pushing for progress in diversity & inclusion (D&I) in the workforce. What spurred your interest and passion for the topic?

Donna Morris: Ultimately our roles as people leaders require a focus on creating environments that are inclusive, and implementing programs and processes that focus on equity and build diverse and sustainable organizations. I have long been passionate about the role the Chief People Officer or Chief HR Officer plays in creating the environment for everyone. I am passionate about taking advantage of Walmart’s immense opportunity to make a significant impact – both for more than 2 million associates around the world and the communities we serve – in creating equity and ensuring all are heard, included and empowered.

Leadership in Changing Environment

Walmart has long embraced diversity, equity and inclusion as principles that are at the core to our values. Now, we’re taking a multi-dimensional approach to strengthen our company and serve our stakeholders. We’re encouraging an ongoing and open dialogue – between our associates, customers, suppliers and communities – so we can reach the best of what we can be, together. We see it as our responsibility to not only help people save money but to truly live a better life.

At Adobe, you drove workforce-friendly initiatives, including the introduction of expanded family leave, gender pay parity, and opportunity parity. This is an extraordinary achievement, but for many companies, this is still a novel idea. Has your advocacy helped inspire other companies to grow and develop this stream of employee health and well-being initiatives?

While I certainly hope the people initiatives at Adobe and here at Walmart inspire other companies, each business needs to determine the strategy to attract and grow employees. At Walmart, people are at the core of our business. As a team, we are focused on driving innovative programs and solutions that attract and grow our associates, and it’s fantastic when it inspires other companies to support their workforce in similar ways.

I joined Walmart because I was inspired by the potential to provide an exceptional associate experience to over 2 million individuals across the globe, and well-being was clearly an aspect. But, COVID-19 has underscored the fragility of well-being, and the critical role HR plays in supporting the emotional, financial and physical well-being of our associates. 

Donna Morris on Leadership

One specific area where we hope to inspire other companies is diversity and inclusion. We want Walmart’s actions to inspire other companies to be part of meaningful change for their employees and the communities they support as well. We have increased our transparency on our progress specific to representation bi-annually, and have strengthened our people practices with a focus on hiring and developing associates with a focus on more inclusive processes. We’ve also created shared value networks focused on influencing financial, healthcare, education and criminal justice systems, both inside our walls and externally. And our Center for Racial Equity will support Black philanthropic leaders and organizations to serve our Black and African American communities, promote equity and address structural racism that persists in America. As we’re more and more involved in this important movement, I look forward to learning of the practices of other companies, small and large, to amplify the focus on racial equity.

How has the COVID-19 crisis impacted Walmart’s business priorities and people priorities?

COVID-19 accelerated our business priority to be an omnichannel business, expediting our focus on customer pickup, delivery and overall demand of customers in this uncertain time. As a People team, we have focused on the well-being of our associates, including implementing new benefits and programs, such as the COVID-19 Emergency Leave Policy, implementing a 24-hour hiring process to support the demand for associates in our stores, clubs and facilities, and supporting our campus office associates as they moved to remote work. We have actively focused on communication to associates and leaders throughout this period of change, ensuring they are informed of resources to support their well-being. As I reflect on this period, I am incredibly proud of all that has been accomplished with the focus first and foremost on supporting our associates, and enabling the business to meet the needs of our customers and communities.

Do you think that post-pandemic workforce trends like remote working become common trends? What other workforce trends do you think are here to stay?

I do believe new ways of working and living have emerged during this period and will remain in a post-pandemic world. I expect there will be increased focus on well-being, flexibility will be more common, remote work will prevail in varying capacities, and how individuals look to integrate work and life could be altered. Specific to remote work, our Global Tech team will use a primarily virtual work environment post-pandemic, and they will innovate on practices, schedules and technology that will inform our ability to maintain connection, productivity, speed and innovation.

Donna Morris Quote

I believe many organizations will return to a campus office because people will want to reconnect in a physical location post-pandemic. For our campus office associates at Walmart, they have valued the flexibility and support of remote work during this period, but many feel the loss of connection with other associates and look forward to being together again. How the office is used, the protocol for use, the frequency of use, etc. will adapt based on functions and business requirements. 

Finally, digital adoption has accelerated during this time, and it will be essential to continue to invest in employee development to prepare the workforce for a new economic reality and evolving consumer habits of the future – across industries.

In building a reliable pipeline of leadership talent, how do learning programs help deliver on your objectives?

Walmart has long been committed to the growth and development of our associates to support our customers and enable long-term business success. It is exciting what the team has established, including the ability for our U.S.-based associates to earn debt-free college degrees, training store and supply chain associates through Academies and award-winning leadership development programs, such as DARE (Developing Accelerated Retail Experience) in Walmart Canada. We have an active talent development program and focus on building leaders from within, highlighted by 75% of our store management starting in hourly associate positions. 

We firmly believe our associates are our competitive advantage, and providing opportunities for continued growth, development and training is key to best serve our customers.

When you set out to recruit new talent, what do you look for? How do you retain star performers to Walmart?

We look for individuals who align to our values and purpose, demonstrate the skills and capabilities for the position and are focused on serving. We want associates to not just consider the position for which they are being hired, but the opportunity to grow and develop a career with Walmart. It is my strong belief that associates who are provided with the opportunity for ongoing growth, create strong connections to others within the organization and are supported with feedback are more likely to remain with us. Doug McMillon, our CEO, started his Walmart career unloading trucks and now leads the Fortune One retailer. Last year at the Walmart Shareholders’ Meeting, Doug promoted Shabnam Ighani to store manager, who started her Walmart career after immigrating from Iran and learned English from co-workers who cared for her. We have exceptional examples of associates like Doug and Shabnam, who have had the opportunity grow, develop exceptionally broad experiences and meet literally thousands of people – all while working for one company. I believe Walmart has a very unique opportunity to truly create lasting career opportunities for our associates. 

What’s the key lesson you want HR Leaders to take away from your work?

I believe now could be “the moment” for the HR/people function. COVID-19, focus on diversity, equity and inclusion and broad uncertainty has created the necessity to focus on people. The best equipped in an organization for this focus is the HR/people function. It will require change, as the ways we have worked have been altered. A key lesson is that you need to be open to “disrupt or be disrupted.” I believe in the continual need to evaluate what should start, stop or continue and be comfortable with making changes focused on enabling the success of the business and people.


Donna Morris Executive Vice president, Chief People Officer, Walmart

Donna Morris Walmart Most Influential CHROs

Donna Morris is executive vice president and chief people officer for Walmart Inc. A member of the executive committee, Donna is responsible for attracting, retaining and developing talent for one of the world’s largest private employers.

PHOTO: Walmart 

A version of this interview appeared in the October 2020 issue (p. 54) of The HR Digest. 

Priyansha Mistry
Currently editor at The HR Digest Magazine. She helps HR professionals identify issues with their talent management and employment law. | Priyansha tweets at @PriyanshaMistry

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