What is democracy? After attending a Walmart general assembly and grassroots meeting, I think my old folks would also count as having experienced a democratic system in this country with a totalitarian dictatorship.
The first time a staff meeting was held for my department was because Pingbo, the original manager of our department, was transferred to another store as its manager. Juncun, the new manager, undertook the position with relish. Meilin, the area manager, also came over to take part in this meeting. She had quite a few initiatives for us. When I entered the office, there was something familiar about that calm, graceful woman. After thinking for a moment, all became clear. It turned out she was the area manager in the photograph on the wall. She was also looking at me.
The first item on the bill at the meeting was for everyone to give a self-introduction. It was clear that she was more restrained than everyone else. When it was my turn, I stood up and humbly, with my hand on my chest, introduced myself. Meilin and someone else said how could it be that someone as big as me could speak so quietly. My mind tensed up for a moment, how was it that the first time I met her she gave me a lecture. I puckered up my mouth and respectfully replied, “I’ve seen great people with the same mannerisms.” The whole room immediately roared with laughter. Only Meilin and myself didn’t laugh, we just looked at each other. Juncun laughing heartily stuck his thumb up at me.
Walmart’s internal requirements include that no matter whether you are a manager or standard employee, everyone can directly use each others given names, there’s no need to mention the title of the person. Superiors can treat their subordinates to meals, but it is now not permitted for subordinates to do the same for their superiors. If they do, they will be met with disciplinary action. You could say that Walmart is of a rare breed in China. One can see from its aims that Walmart is simply demanding that all employees have an equal and cooperative relationship, bringing about the respect of everyone. Walmart is avant-garde in many areas. It doesn’t like to give bribes, and when the fire department comes to inspect the facilities, most often they are treated to a meal. Therefore, as soon as they find something amiss, they’re sure to take care of it. However, this was during it’s early phase. I heard Old Deng say that nowadays Walmart is like other large businesses and has established a public relations department.
That day, Meilin requested that I stand up and read aloud the criteria of an ap: “Upstanding honesty is the most precious value of an ap. We must uphold this at all costs.” I thought those words that I read aloud were sacred. It’s a shame that not everyone felt the same. After, during a conversation with Guangyu, the manager of the investigation team, I laughed saying that actually I was the only one there who was “upstanding”.
Generally speaking, the atmosphere at the meeting was comparatively relaxed. Everyone had an opportunity to speak out and express their feeling and opinions. I recall the democratic procedures in “Robert’s Rules of Order”. I would say it employs a different approach but amounts to the same thing. Procedures in the company meetings of democratic countries embody it, and furthermore Walmart has brought them to China, wanting them to be spread afar.
I’ve also participated in a Walmart grassroots meeting. That morning, the other people in my department were especially busy. Human resources notified us it was convening a grass roots meeting, and requested that our department appoint someone to attend. Jianyong thereupon delegated me to go. It was held in a meeting room on the third floor. Standard store employees of every department were in attendance, and it was also necessary for the store’s vice president, human resources, and the AP department to attend. The managers had to listen attentively to the opinions, feelings and pressing problems of their subordinates, then respond to them face to face. Basically, I felt that those who spoke were able to be outspoken and the managers replied with sincerity. Meanwhile, human resources recorded everything diligently. This is a rare phenomenon in China, and at the time I felt very fortunate to be able to work at Walmart. A system as good as this makes people feel important and respected.
I’ve also experienced a few general meetings in which all store employees participate. Those are truly lively spectacles. The meeting rooms are laid out with many slim tables and seats. At each meeting, various snacks are placed in front of each chair. I won’t describe the particulars any further, I just felt that it was as if us of the 1980’s generation were holding a mass rally as it was so lively. When the noise became too much a woman would pick up a broken gong and strike it, bringing silence upon the whole room. The atmosphere was just like when the political leaders of the 1980s held general assemblies with the full support of the masses. The leader of each department, such as the store manager, the human resource manager, the AP manager all faced the honest words of each employee. The atmosphere was both warm and harmonious, just like that in a big family.
Each time a meeting was held, human resources would seize the opportunity to publicise the culture and values of Walmart: “Personal respect, customer service and the pursuit of excellence.” Human resources are the equivalent of a priest for Walmart, as in their work they are in charge of the beliefs as well as the ideology. Actually, the officials of our political party also have this kind of role, but what they proclaim is Marxism and socialism, which nowadays no one believes in, not even themselves. What they truly believe in is something else altogether.
One should not belittle intangible cultures and systems of values, as it’s precisely these that dominate the fate and direction of everything from small companies to the countries themselves. They guide people’s mentality. Whether or not a workplace or a country is fair, righteous, at peace or amicable, their entire systems come from them.
I sometimes think that Americans are particularly interesting. They come over and bring their culture with them. I wonder if this could be considered as a cultural invasion.