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5 minutes with the Walmart US chief people officer

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In her role as Walmart U.S. Chief People Officer, Judy Werthauser oversees millions of employees around the globe. To her, that involves a responsibility not only to improve the lives of the company’s associates but also those of their families and the communities in which they live. 

Yet, she still makes time for regular Friday dinners with her adult children — splitting time between Minnesota and her home base in Arkansas — and for her Rottweiler, Biggie.

Throughout her career, Werthauser has worked in leadership and HR positions at Marshall Field’s, U.S. Bancorp, Target, Domino’s and Five Below. 

This conversation was edited for clarity and length.

HR DIVE: What are the most pressing issues facing the HR industry right now?

JUDY WERTHAUSER: I’m in a front-line business and always been with a large front-line workforce. It’s the challenges of employment, about making sure that we work with agencies to ensure we’re able to provide great work experiences, that we’re helping to develop and create skills that allow for future work, that we’re creating situations where employees can create a life for themselves. They can afford to live, they can support their families, they can further their own opportunities. We think a lot about that to make sure that we’re driving good economic health. 

We’re trying to drive culture in a very healthy way and allow people to bring their best selves to their place of employment. In our industry, there are a lot of governmental challenges that we face and talk through. But when we focus on our associates and we focus on driving great employment practices, that’s the zone. The zone of accomplishment is through focusing on doing the right thing and helping people be employed. 

From an industry perspective, you can’t walk away from technology and the impact of technology and generative AI. We’re focused on that as an effort to support jobs, to make jobs better, to, again, further people’s opportunities. It’s not an efficiency play; it’s about enhancement and support to do better work.

Specifically, how are you using gen AI?

We’re using it for our front line to support the work they’re doing, both in our stores and in our supply chain. We’re using it here in the home office to help with creation and writing and things like that. But we’re also using it in our supply chains and in our stores to help drive the direction of work and create better jobs. 

How does HR get a seat at the business table?

The way I approach my work is I’m here to drive the business. I am here to attain our business goals, period, full stop. When you think about the strategic alignment of going a direction, when you move into execution, you’re driving people to some level of execution. There’s a big role that HR takes on behalf of the team to help us navigate the direction of execution. 

That has to do with making sure that we’re shaped right, that we’re working with leaders to make sure the organizations are prepared to deliver, that we are looking at all the tooling of employment compensation, rewards, culture, employment issues and making sure those are all harmonized in a way that reinforces the culture that we want to bring to life. It’s also delivering on our values and our purpose in the way we behave day in and day out.

How do you decide which benefits to offer? 

First and foremost, there’s an employment brand that any company decides they want to stand for. Sometimes they decide they don’t want to stand for something and you’ll see that in the mix of packages that they offer. 

Walmart has 1.6 million associates in the United States and over 2 million worldwide. That is a responsibility we take incredibly seriously. We see ourselves not only as a servant of our customers in our business but as a servant of our communities. We’re here to help people live better lives.

At the end of the day, you have a business to run, and you have some commitments to deliver on. The art of leadership here is about the choices they make. 

How do you decompress?

I’ve been working for a long time. Over the course of time, I have learned my natural rhythms, and I have learned how to manage my energy. I walk a lot. Even if it’s just half an hour, I’ll get in as many steps as I can. I eat healthy, and I try to sleep in. I take a lot of time for family because, even though my kids are grown, we’re a very close family. Even though I don’t live with them all the time, I see them quite a bit. Whenever we’re together, I cook for them. 

What would people be surprised to learn about you? 

My team played a joke and surprised me with a Pitbull dupe cameo. I love Pitbull. Some of his music is not appropriate, so I like his music that’s appropriate in the HR world.

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