Walmart’s Saturday morning meetings have been a long-term fixture for the company. Once a month at 7:30 on a Saturday morning, the US retail giant’s top executives gather in an auditorium at its Bentonville headquarters. The required meetings have been described (paywall) as “part evangelical revival, part Oscars, part Broadway show.” People bring their kids, and there’s a company cheer and awards for associates, as well as a more serious rundown of sales figures.
But according to a recent speech by Walmart’s SVP of change management, Celia Swanson, one of new CEO Doug McMillon’s first actions as CEO was to make those Saturday meetings optional—for the first time in the company’s history. The meetings were weekly for many years until they were reduced to once a month in 2008.
The iconic meetings have been fundamental to the image that the company wants to project—family friendly, with executives that are intensely loyal to the company and the customer. The company’s founder, Sam Walton, started the meetings in the 1960s because he thought it unfair for his employees to have to work on Saturday mornings if he wasn’t working too.
The meetings will still continue, and McMillon is reportedly working to make them more relevant, Swanson said. “To his credit, he made the meeting optional, but then put the pressure on himself to make the meetings so great that everyone would want to attend,” she said.
Be that as it may, the fact that all executives always attended has been a signature aspect of Walmart’s Saturday morning meetings. Making the already less-frequent meetings optional signals a significant cultural shift—one implemented by an executive who, though new to the job, is also very much a Walmart lifer. McMillon unloaded trucks for the company as a teenager, and joined as a buyer trainee right out of college.
We reached out to Walmart for comment, but did not hear back in time for publication.