Most Americans are familiar with Whirlpool. Whirlpool, which is based in Benton Harbor, Michigan,
Most Americans are familiar with Whirlpool. Whirlpool, which is based in Benton Harbor, Michigan, has been in business for more than century and is perhaps best known for the washers and dryers it makes. In addition, the company makes refrigerators, freezers, and cooking appliances that it sells under various other brand names around the world (Amana, Maytag, KitchenAid, and Roper are some of them).
During the last economic recession, appliance sales plummeted, and Whirlpool was forced to lay off thousands of workers. Although budgets were being slashed, Whirlpool needed to develop managers who could lead the company through the downturn as well as provide training that would have a measurable impact at a lower cost.
Previously Whirlpool University, the company’s 100-acre learning division located at its corporate headquarters, had used mainly classroom learning. The university now has a learning management system and conducts online training. A series of 30-minute modules are used to help familiarize and onboard new hires. In addition, Whirlpool now takes a “closed-loop” approach to training. Instead of just doing the popular types of training that other companies have adopted, it surveys managers to find out what types of training Whirlpool truly needs and what types it doesn’t, and then designs training programs based on those specific needs.
Because managers are central to the training and development of their employees and are in the best position to observe and coach rank-and-file employees, Whirlpool utilizes a 12-month-long intermittent training program for its managers called Leading People. The program consists of blended learning, including prework modules managers do online, followed by classroom training, business projects, and seminars with top managers. A manager’s direct reports provide an initial baseline assessment of the manager’s skills, and then the manager is assessed again following the training. James Crawford, in Whirlpool’s Chicago division, said the training helped him become a better leader: “It helped me pinpoint weak spots in my leadership practices and then gave me a strategy for turning those weaknesses into strengths.” The managers are later surveyed on how well the training is working and what can be done to improve it. In other words, there is a feedback system in place—hence the “closed-loop” moniker. With this approach, the design, delivery, and redesign of the training is a continuous circle and constantly being improved over time.
Its closed-loop feedback system has helped Whirlpool continue to assess and alter its training to adapt to new conditions. For example, today Whirlpool isn’t laying off employees; it’s trying to hire more of them as its older workers retire. To attract Millennials, the company has partnered with high school and colleges to offer an on-site apprenticeship program called “Work, Earn, and Learn.” In 2017, Whirlpool’s CEO, Jeff Fettig, was one of a number of corporate executives who met with President Donald Trump to talk about saving American jobs and encourage government support for the vocational training that today’s high-tech skills manufacturers today. “The jobs are there, but the skills are not,” said one executive at the meeting.
Why are a needs assessment and ongoing training important for firms like Whirlpool to conduct?
How do you think Whirlpool’s training strategy will need to change in the future?
A needs assessment is the process of identifying the gaps between the current state of a firm and its desired state. This can be done by surveying employees, managers, and customers to get their feedback on the firm’s training needs. On the other hand, ongoing training is the process of providing employees with regular training to keep their skills up-to-date.