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Corporate Renewal Through Cultural Transformation

For this Retailer Challenging Leadership Underpins Corporate Renewal

ASDA Stores (now Walmart):  The Company employed over 50,000 people and was running five out of five in the league table of UK Superstores. It was also public knowledge that the company was experiencing financial difficulties. Against this background the board appointed a new CEO, Archie Norman, formerly of McKinsey and latterly Finance Director of Kingfisher PLC. He was tasked with turning round the business.


Part of the resulting corporate renewal programme required the Directors, Managers and Staff to gain personal insights and skills to behave in support of a new culture. ASDA called this culture THE ASDA WAY OF WORKING and they made it a cornerstone to their renewal.


The challenge was to design and implement a programme that would inculcate THE ASDA WAY OF WORKING at all levels of the company. Particularly in General Store Managers, many of whom behaved in an extremely autocratic way, which ASDA referred to as “Traditional British Retailing”, a style which Archie wanted to replace with one that he defined as providing “Freedom within a Framework”.


ASDA selected Peter Pattenden and his team for its demonstrated competence at designing and delivering practical “fit for purpose” programmes that create real behavioural and culture change at the individual and organisational level. Following extensive field interviews with Senior Executives, General Store Managers, first line managers and staff, we identified a need for three programmes, each for a different population and all with a common message. These programmes were intended to help people at all levels:  Enable the Vision, Live the Values and Achieve the Business Objectives.


The programme significantly enabled people to change the way they worked together in ASDA. As a result communication became far more open and the company was able to recruit and retain talented people. A short-hand and common language was introduced and staff from Senior Executives to junior staff collaborated more effectively in support of the business strategy and objectives. After a year of Archie’s leadership the signs of a renewal were clear. The staff believed firmly in Archie’s vision and although their pay was modest by comparison with that offered by competitors, people continued to see ASDA as the place to be. Probably the most similar culture at this time was the one Richard Branson and his people had at Virgin Atlantic.


ASDA moved up the rankings and became number two to Tesco Stores in the UK league of superstores. Three years into the project ASDA was acquired by WALMART the leading US retailer. We understand that the compatibility of the ASDA culture to that of the American company was a factor in the acquisition and one that has led to a very successful integration of the businesses.

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