Walgreens CHRO Kathleen Wilson-Thompson is building an HR infrastructure to support the organization as it rebrands itself into a global health care and retail company.
Kathleen Wilson-Thompson said her husband was happy when she was recruited to be Walgreens’ senior vice president and chief human resources officer three years ago. She already had a strong connection to the organization, one she shared with her young daughter that he had tried to curb: “I’d never take a list; I’d put her in the basket, we’d go up and down the aisles, and I’d let her pick stuff and throw it in. He’s like, don’t do that.”
But being able to connect to one’s organization is good, especially when the national drugstore chain now has a rapidly expanding global footprint — it is on track to merge with multinational health and beauty chain Alliance Boots. The company also has a new business strategy as it emphasizes helping people get, stay and live well. Its official marketing tagline is “At the corner of happy and healthy,” and that intersecting business and people strategy applies to its workforce of more than 240,000, as well as its customers.
That’s where Wilson-Thompson comes in. When she joined the company in January 2010 after almost 19 years at Kellogg Co., she said she had several conversations with CEO Greg Wasson about his desire to build a world-class team and community at Walgreens with the stores at the center of all activity.
“We are reinventing community pharmacy, and we’re now becoming a global company,” she said. “How do we build a new HR team that’s going to drive programs and initiatives that touch all of our people?”
In lieu of personally connecting with every employee at the company’s more than 8,000 stores, Wilson-Thompson has championed strategies to facilitate communication with team members, patients and customers.
For instance, the company began a series of listening tours, and Walgreens’ town hall format has expanded to include virtual meetings where team members can air their concerns and ideas. No question is off limits, and Wilson-Thompson said in addition to promoting a sense of community, the ideas generated during these sessions create workable solutions to company challenges. Then managers build action plans and track them, and every leader is required to have check-ins that are part of the annual performance management process.