This Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear the case of Dukes v. Wal-Mart, a class action lawsuit regarding alleged discrimination by the world’s largest retailer against women in regard to pay and promotion.
The case has potentially huge ramifications for class action lawsuits, equality in the workplace and Wal-Mart’s reputation. As the Bentonville behemoth deals with the media blitz surrounding the case, one is reminded that on any given day, Wal-Mart is likely dealing with a crisis somewhere in the world. From citing its superstores to consistent issues about how it treats its people, suppliers and the small businesses in its communities, Wal-Mart bashing is a popular sport. And that doesn’t even take into account the usual lists of employees behaving badly, product/service troubles and legislative/regulatory matters, and the minor acts of God that any major multinational must deal with.
Perhaps it is having to be on an almost constant crisis footing that has helped Wal-Mart set the standard for dealing with a major natural disaster. Its comprehensive and well coordinated response to Hurricane Katrina made FEMA seem downright amateurish, leading many to conclude that the Federal and State governments could learn a lot from Wal-Mart on how to prepare and deal with the next big one. The Suburban Emergency Management Project provides an incisive review of the breadth and scope of Wal-Mart emergency preparedness resources, procedures and personnel along with the actions it took before, during and after Katrina.
The devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, showed that Wal-Mart can do crisis response on a global scale. As The Wall Street Journal points out in a fascinating article, Wal-Mart’s Arkansas-based emergency response team quickly sprang into action after the quake struck and coordinated with its operations in Hong Kong and leadership in Japan to issue alerts and updates to employees, seek accounts on the safety of all its employees and begin distributing relief supplies at its stores and myriad locations across Japan. The WSJ story also shows the diligence and creativity of Wal-Mart employees throughout Japan, the region and back in the US in delivering relief, disseminating information and ascertaining the well-being of its employees.
While few companies have the need or capabilities to build the crisis response infrastructure of Wal-Mart, all organizations should look at how the folks from Bentonville do it to understand the importance of being prepared with the right plan, tested procedures and dedicated people in place to manage a crisis. As Wal-Mart knows, your business and reputation depend on it.