The Future of Employee Relations - A Perspective from Whirlpool
  • The Future of Employee Relations

At the CUE Spring 2017 Conference, we were treated to a presentation by Ricky Turner, Senior Director of Employee Experience at Whirlpool. How does an organization with 30,000 employees create an engaging employee experience?

As a consumer product manufacturer, Whirlpool has a team of experts who know how to market to customers. They understand how to drive emotional connections between their products and consumers. With over 85,000 followers on their KitchenAidUSA Twitter account, they have built a loyal and enthusiastic customer base.

Ricky leveraged this expertise to create similar emotional connections between the company and its employee base.

 

Get to Know Your People Better

The Whirlpool Marketing Department has a wealth of data points about their target customer base. Whirlpool’s peak sales season is June through August, because families begin to prepare for holiday gatherings over the summer. Outside of that season, buyers are usually in distress when they buy their products because it means that an appliance is broken.

The company performed extensive research to understand exactly how the customer feels in that moment of distress. They also take advantage of the vast amount of customer data that is publicly available. For example, data can be distilled into trends within a zip code that show average household size, types of magazines read, TV shows watched, typical vacation destinations, and home debt. As consumers, we trigger that information and data collection when we sign up for online services and apps.

Organizations collect a lot of data on their employees. We can watch their badge swipes to tell us when they arrive, take lunch, go to the gym, and how they move through our facilities. But we don’t always use that data. Given the tight job market, Ricky knew that he had to understand how to sell jobs at Whirlpool as well as – or better — than they can sell stand mixers.

Ricky realized that the HR Department could collect similar data points about their employees through:

This moment would not be possible without a KitchenAid stand mixer.

  • Engagement surveys
  • Pulse surveys
  • Interviews (Exit, 90-day New Hire, and Leader)
  • External market data from demographers and ethnographers

Most HR practitioners believe that we should treat our employees the way we treat our customers. Ricky took this to heart and began to analyze data from Whirlpool employees as if they were customers. Just like marketers, you can take that data and transform it into a few personas that represent your average employee.

 

Travel Your Employee’s Path

Take a moment and think about the best gift that you’ve ever received. It was probably very thoughtful, but most of all it was personal. The person who bought it for you knew enough about your style, taste, and needs to get you the perfect object. How did they know what to buy? They listened for understanding, and used empathy.

If you’ve ever chaired employee focus groups, you probably know that the first 20 minutes are gripes. Be patient, and then you’ll get to the good stuff. This is when the conversations get more emotional, and it becomes more about their friends at work than personal gain.

So, the next time you’re talking to your employees, make sure you take the time to listen to:

  • Understand their hopes and dreams…and fears
  • Why this job is important to them
  • How they see themselves in the world

At Whirlpool, employees are encouraged to bring their whole, authentic self to work every day. This allows the company to get the best ideas from their employees since they’re not afraid to be themselves.

 

Take a Fresh Look at Processes

If you’ve ever done global process mapping, you know it’s important to engage all stakeholders in the process to have a successful outcome. People can get territorial about their existing systems and processes, so it’s important to get buy-in and consider processes from all angles.

Think about the first contact an applicant has with your application process. Is it a compelling and engaging experience? What does it say about what it will be like to work for your company?

Whirlpool has a large field employee population, and those employees tend to be production workers. However, the Whirlpool applicant tracking system (ATS) was designed for exempt employees. As with most companies, Whirlpool made a significant investment in the ATS and HR was reluctant to change it.

Many of the applicants for field positions don’t have resumes or computers, so it was difficult for them to apply for jobs. Through process mapping, the HR and operations team realized that the ATS was fine for corporate, but didn’t work for the field, so they created a new process for field applicants.

So, the next time you think about your processes, make it personal. Ask yourself “Based on what we know and believe about our employees, does this process create a compelling and engaging experience for this employee?”

 

Change the Process

At Whirlpool, Ricky urges his colleagues to think about how process changes will impact the culture, environment, and available tools. He applies design thinking and empathy since he executes projects with the end user in mind.

Ricky tells a story about a hospital CEO who wanted all of the nurses to have iPads. After a significant investment, the iPads were deployed. But they weren’t used because the nurses didn’t have a place to put when they were working with, and touching, their patients. Just like the ATS example, this was a process that was built for someone other than the end user.

Change management is always hard, especially with HR processes that people are invested in. For example, Ricky is working hard to change the way Whirlpool thinks about its job posting process. Right now, managers get to review the performance scores of the top candidates for internal promotions and transfers. Managers get to know everything about their potential employees.

Yet, employees know very little about their new prospective manager when they apply for promotions and transfers.

Why not change this paradigm, and also post the manager’s effectiveness score on the job posting? This would add a layer of transparency to the process, so employees could better understand the type of leader that they might be working for.

 

Summary

Change is hard, and it takes time and empathy. There are many HR trends that are popular right now. There’s also a ton of data available to explore. Focus on your top three priorities, and invest in your employees’ experience. Some people may call this “HR Math” since it’s hard to calculate the ROI, but you can’t put a price on empathy that promotes positive employee relations. 

Ricky Turner is the Senior Director of Employee Experience at Whirlpool Corporation, where he leads an outstanding team. Ricky and his team are responsible for ensuring that the relationship between Whirlpool and its employees is durable, productive and engaging. He oversees Policy Development, Employee Investigations and Litigation and Governmental Compliance Reporting. His team also supports Performance Management and Leadership Development. Ricky holds a JD from Rutgers University and a BS from Tuskegee University. Originally from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, Ricky resides in Chicago and is married to his smoking hot wife, Gwendolyn. They have two energetic and charismatic little boys: Asa James is 7 and Beau Hendrix is 4.

 

Guest blogger Liz D’Aloia founded HR Virtuoso to help companies optimize their employment application processes. HR Virtuoso creates customized, company-branded short form employment applications that work on any mobile device. This allows companies to get far more applications, and also keep their existing applicant tracking system. Prior to launching HR Virtuoso, Liz rose through the ranks of transportation, retail, and mortgage companies as a Senior Employment Attorney and VP of HR. Liz is a nationally recognized blogger, speaker, and HR practitioner. Liz tries to spend as much time as possible creating new sweet treats with her KitchenAid stand mixer. Her signature cookie is the Thin Mint, but you’ll have to contact her at liz@hrvirtuoso.com to discover her secret ingredients.

 

Share:Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on FacebookShare on Google+Buffer this pagePrint this page