The key to the Q&A

Last January on my personal blog Writing Boots, I ripped one of the best employee magazines in the world—or, better put, one of the few remaining employee magazines that are worth the glossy paper they’re printed on.

Walgreen World‘s crime? Running, in response to employees’ tough questions in the employee annual report issue, anonymous answers from management.

“The effect is kind of a Wizard of Oz dynamic,” I wrote, “where the small and shivering employees dare to stand before the great throne of management and are forced to take whatever brief and impersonal explanations they can get.

“The dynamic strikes me as old-fashioned. You know the communicators get the answers to all these questions from various subject-matter experts in HR, marketing, finance or legal. Why can’t the execs cop to their answers the way the employees cop to their questions?”

So I tore open this year’s employee Q&A and went straight to the “What do you wonder?” annual exchange. And what to my wondering eyes did appear? As usual, the “most common and most interesting” questions from employees—but this time, with signed responses from management.

From Lisa Avella, director of drug store systems, from Mark Wagner, president of community management, Wayne Orvis, director of retail and capacity planning, Liz Santelli, HR business partner and Mona Kelly, general merchandise manager!

As always, the answers were just as tough as the questions. For example, an employee at a store in Hartford, Conn. asks, “Will assistants ever get their four hours of overtime back.” And Wagner answers, “The short answer is know. We know that this isn’t the answer you want to hear, but this was one area where we were way out of line with other companies in the marketplace. … We’ve heard you loud and clear that this was a very unpopular decision, but after weighing it very carefully, we came to the conclusion that this move was unnecessary for us to remain competitive.”

Walgreens employees can ask more of their company than that, but they can’t ask more of their communicators.

Did my blog post from last year have anything to do with the change?

“To be honest, including the names of the people who answered questions in our Q&A hadn’t crossed my mind when I took over the magazine,” Walgreen World editor Moriah Simpson told me via e-mail. “It was one of those ‘we’ve always done it this way’ things that, yes, your suggestion challenged me to look at. With the redesign of the magazine … this seemed like a good time to shake things up.”

Was it hard to get the management goons to sign their names?

“The majority of our sources here at corporate didn’t have a problem with their names being included when we let them know our plan. Those who did ask about it were mainly concerned with receiving a flood of follow-up questions. We’ll see when the issue hits stores tomorrow whether that happens.”

Not likely, but we’ll follow up.

“I agree that adding the names of those who answer questions gives more weight and credibility to each answer,” says Simpson. “Thanks for the tip!”

Well, shucks, Moriah. Anytime.

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