Elevation Forum brings key officials together in Walmart’s hometown

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Elevation Forum brings key officials together in Walmart’s hometown


Getting elite business executives to engage in a spirited debate on the characteristics and philosophies of their overall operations is the key for any panel or discussion. This year’s most recent Elevation Forum, held in late June at the Embassy Suites Convention Center in Bentonville, Ark., was a prime example of getting these officials together in one room and talking about the future of retail and what they can do to influence it.

“The first 90% of learning your craft is really the easy part. The next five is harder, and the last five is what separates everybody else,” said Dan Mack, founder of Chicago-based Mack Elevation and the coordinator of the forum. “That is part of the reason why only 1-in-20 companies are elite performers.”

Mack told the more than 50 attendees at the event, held close to Walmart’s corporate headquarters, that the key to top performers lies not in the content of discussions, but in the style in which they communicated. Research, he said, shows that a team’s patterns of communication are the most important predictor of success. “Communication styles are as significant as intelligence, personality, skill, and the quality of discussions — combined,” Mack said. “High performing teams practice healthy conversations both inside and outside formal meetings. They are not afraid of difficult decisions, possess poise under pressure, and demonstrate consistency and adaptability in their leadership practice. The highest performing teams are rare and normally take five years or more of deliberate daily practice to attain this prestigious status.”

The forum’s keynote speaker, Julie Barber, Walmart’s vice president and divisional merchandise manager for OTC, shared her business philosophy and how her parents and other Walmart mentors have shaped her values and leadership approach. Barber said she hopes to balance the art of candid communication and relationship building with her business partners in her new role.

She also said that her business plan will emphasize winning on price, operational leadership, and unpacking business efficiencies to drive profitability and price impact. She also will continue Walmart’s journey of elevating their omnichannel platform. Her team will continue to look for items that truly fill unmet needs, attract new consumers and are unique.

Mack started the afternoon session by asking attendees: How do companies improve the impact of their strategic partnerships?

“We find that 8-of-10 partnerships break up due to a lack of alignment between the partners,” Mack said. “A team’s ability to learn, and translate learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate advantage. We need to invest in the right partnerships — ones rooted in shared values, not just a financial agreement.”

He said that the group agreed that the best strategic partners offer honest critiques and hold their colleagues accountable to a higher standard. On a macro level, the role and nature of partnerships have changed. “In today’s partnerships, both parties are mutually invested in the vision,” he said. “It’s a mutual exchange of value benefitting both parties. To remain relevant, companies must think about bringing on courageous partners to challenge their thinking and confront their blind spots. The group believes there’s a direct relationship between the depth and quality of one’s partnerships and growth.”

Mack said that retail industry officials should contact him regarding future forum thought leadership events. “I believe this is a great opportunity to get retailers and industry executives together and talking in the same room,” he said. “Who knows what can come out of an event, where people engage each other face-to-face and question the status of their industry. For more information, I suggest potential attendees visit my website at MackElevationForum.com.”