June 6, 2020

Emphasizing the ‘Human’ in Human Resources

JOBS AND THE PANDEMIC: As unemployment numbers rise, Walmart's Maren Waggoner and her team have been working hard to offset some of the impact by providing jobs and other opportunities with the multinational retail corporation.

In large organizations, the human element can get overlooked. Maren Dollwet Waggoner’s job is to make sure that doesn’t happen.

“It’s very humbling work,” Waggoner said, “knowing that the individual level directly affects the organization. The safety and wellbeing of employees correlates with the thriving of the business.”

Now based in Arkansas as Walmart’s senior director for U.S. people & organizational design, Waggoner (PhD, Organizational Behavior, ’13) brings a wealth of Fortune 100 experience and a background in psychology to the role—one of many in a career spent understanding the human mind.

Before holding HR positions at DirecTV, AT&T, and Ticketmaster, Waggoner earned a master’s degree from the University of West Florida and a bachelor’s from the University of Kiel in Germany, both in psychology, before studying at CGU.

In her current role with Walmart, Waggoner provides “generalist support for 1,000 HR associates across the country, basically ‘HR for HR,’ “ she explained, and leads an organizational design team that provides strategic consulting while focusing on internships and various hiring processes.

Responding to the unexpected

No level of training could have prepared Waggoner—or any HR professional—for the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The United States alone saw nearly 30 million unemployment claims filed by late April, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

“Our priorities immediately emphasized the need to keep our workforce and customers safe,” she said.

STAYING POSITIVE: Walmart’s Maren Waggoner

Waggoner was part of a cross-functional team tasked with Walmart’s pledge of hiring 150,000 employees to meet customer demand and provide work.

“To match the volume of applications, we had to make sure the hiring process was as quick and efficient as possible,” she said. “Our tech and product teams developed and implemented a text-to-hire system, trimming the hiring process from two weeks to about 24 hours.”

Walmart’s initial pledge has since been met.

“We’ve hired nearly 200,000 employees—about 5,000 a day,” Waggoner said. “We still make sure there is selection rigor in place, hiring the best person for the job. But the process is much quicker now that we’ve had to pivot to meet industry demands.”

CGU: Serving her well

In dealing with such a challenge, Waggoner looks to her time at CGU. Her dissertation focused on the concept of positive psychological capital and its effects on human behavior, and she found that psychological resource training in concepts such as hope, optimism, resiliency, and self-efficacy can lead to the positive emotional improvements of those in a diverse work environment.

“When looking at the micro-level of the organization, we need to be attuned to people’s emotional side,” she said. “Work-life balance shifts to work-life integration, especially now since more families must navigate working and teaching from home. We want our people to be adaptable, flexible, and collaborative, and it’s what we strive for.”

Waggoner and her team have found a way by designing strategies not only ultimately to help the customer, but also to improve employee performance and provide them with opportunities.

“I’m very thankful for all my professors at CGU for teaching me that,” she said.

Be in the ‘now’

Looking ahead, Waggoner said that flexibility and adaptability have never been as necessary as they are now.

“We’ve had to accelerate in ways we haven’t needed to before,” she said. “Consumer behavior has shifted, and so has the role of HR.”

Retail, like other industries and sectors, won’t operate in the same way again.

“We’re constantly learning how to support the business in immediate ways through crisis management. In being there for our people—our front lines and managers—we can be in the now while getting ahead for business in the future,” Waggoner said.


  • Read Maren Waggoner’s piece on gratitude featured in the column Thriving in the New Normal published in Thrive Global
  • Read more stories of CGU Heroes here