All the Ways the Whirlpool Corporation Leverages Its Employee Engagement Platform
On today’s episode of Culture, Comms, & Cocktails, we have Kathy Craig, senior manager of corporate reputation for Whirlpool Corporation global communications out of Michigan. We’ll chat about how Whirlpool is leveraging its Whirlpool 360 employee engagement app, powered by SocialChorus, to allow its C-suite to communicate authentically and directly to employees and reach manufacturing workers effectively. We’ll also discuss how Whirlpool used an escape room to promote awareness and usage of its Whirlpool 360 app.
“[CEO, Marc Bitzer] is really making a difference. Transparency has changed exponentially in the few short years that he’s embraced the [SocialChorus platform]. He’s putting his voice into our employees’ hands… We put a camera, just the iPhone, in front of him each week. It is completely unedited. If the phone rings, he will actually stop in the middle of what he’s saying and say, it’s important that I answer this call. But it’s very natural. It’s very authentic… And it’s really, it just created this great culture. He said at one point, I’m strongly convinced, if our employees understand the broader context of the entire company, it allows them to make better decisions in their respective work environments. And it is really true. And it has trickled down from leadership and to other leaders now.”
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Culture, Comms, & Cocktails Episode #14 Transcript
Kathy Craig: Thanks Chuck. Really excited to be here today.
Chuck Gose: So grab a seat here at the Culture, Comms, & Cocktails lounge and let’s get started. When I mentioned your title is senior manager of corporate reputation Whirlpool global communications. It’s a very fancy title, Kathy, so share with listeners what it means to be the senior manager of corporate reputation at Whirlpool.
Kathy Craig: Okay, well it is a mouthful and it’s not really that fancy. I would say it best translates into keeping a lot of multiple balls in the air. We have internal and external communicators on our global communications team. I actually sit on the external team that promotes and protects our corporate reputation. However, my team serves as a bridge to our internal comms teams. And so we manage the tools (primarily Whirlpool 36) that feed all of our internal and external news to our employees. I also oversee the corporate website and other tools that are primarily used for external communications.
Chuck Gose: And you mentioned Whirlpool 360, which is on the SocialChorus platform and is both an internal and external platform for employees. How big is the team that manages and facilitates that platform, and how much time has committed to that on their part?
Kathy Craig: We have one employee primarily dedicated to the tool for our 92,000 employees. What we do have is a governance team of eight people. And then in addition to that, we have an advocacy team of 18 people and some of those people are a part of the governance team. And then like I said, we have two, myself and an employee of mine, that handles all the operations. I just happen to be lucky that she’s a rockstar and she’s able to really handle all of it. She communicates with all our admin, all our publishers, content creators, et cetera. And she’s doing a great job, but there’s, I would say two at best, one lone soul that’s fueling the engine.
Chuck Gose: Now when Whirlpool 360 was launched, it was mostly about employee advocacy and now it is a balance between that external news and the internal news. So is it this governance team that finds the balance or how does the company find a balance between the two?
Kathy Craig: Great question. And I can’t say that we intentionally seek to find balance, but rather we promote all the news that comes through our corporate newsroom. And then we also work very intentionally to enable our teams across every region, across every brand, across every function to simplify their communication processes by making the tool available to them.
So Whirlpool 360 has become our primary news source for corporate and our functional communications. And then from Whirlpool 360, we have two channels that feed through all of our intranet portals. And those are regional specific and then those channels provide visibility to our larger workforce. So every region has what we call our company headlines as one channel that feeds through, and then the other regions have a regional channel that will feed through.
Once an employee is able to go into the portal and click on that, it familiarizes them with the tool and then we also usually come in and promote the opportunity to see the other channels and share what exists on those channels. It also helps that our CEO has his own channel and uses that for all his primary communication. As they say, everything rises and falls on leadership, so he really has been a great promoter of our tool and has led the way.
Chuck Gose: We’re going to talk more about his involvement in the platform, because it is a key that we’ve heard throughout this podcast, throughout a lot of customers about the importance of getting leaders not just involved, but also engaged and active in there, which is a huge sign of success for Whirlpool 360. Another big sign of success that I’ve heard of, is around the promotion of events there at Whirlpool and and the outcomes of those events on Whirlpool 360. So has this changed events at Whirlpool? Are more people now aware, are more people engaged? What’s happened as a result?
Kathy Craig: Yeah. Another great question, Chuck, thanks. Well, we primarily began with simply promoting events, informing our employees when a specific event is going to happen and time and location. But as the new features have evolved and new ideas emerge from our team, it’s been used for some really fun and I would say even crazy events. For instance, our North American business wanted to share some of our strategic imperatives and so what they did was they built this pretty amazing escape room. We had a consultant come in that has built a few escape rooms in the region and so what they did was they built this escape room inside our building, took up a number of big conference rooms and most of our employees in North America were able to come in and experience. So on the heels of that, one of the clues that was hidden within this escape room was within an article on our Whirlpool 360 app.
So in the escape room we had a phone sitting on one of the counters and it was really driving of our employees to pick up the phone, find the article, and then find their next clues. So we have a team that’s always looking for clever ways to help our employees to come familiar with the app and utilize it and it was just a fun way to continue to promote it. In addition to that, now we started doing some live streaming and at different events, we will hold contests too, that have continued to promote some of those events.
Chuck Gose: I thought I had just about heard it all, when it comes to internal comms tactics. Again, pretty clever and creative. That’s the first time that I’ve heard of, not just using the escape room with employees is clever, creative and I think near genius to do something like that. But also then to bury one of the clues inside the platform. I absolutely love that idea.
Kathy Craig: Yeah, we had a great time with it and it was really well received. And it was really a challenge to get through the escape room. It was really fun that we were able to build the content and the clues into Whirlpool 360.
Chuck Gose: And you mentioned that the majority of North American employees also got to experience it, because sometimes that is something that’s reserved for a select few. So it was great that so many got to experience or participate in that.
Kathy Craig: Yeah, and we challenged a lot of teams too to come through together. And also, we paired different functions and different teams up too, so that they would get to know each other also. So it was not only a great way to utilize the app, but also a fun engagement for our teams and we did receive a lot of positive feedback on it.
Chuck Gose: I bet that built some new relationships and also tested some existing relationships going through that escape room.
Kathy Craig: You’re not kidding. Actually, my husband happens to work for the corporation too, but on an entirely different team. So he was pumping me for some of the answers before, knowing that I had gone through it because he didn’t want to look foolish. And you know what? There’s a competitive spirit in me that said, no way. You figure it out yourself, my friend.
Chuck Gose: What I think is also remarkable and while little tactics in creativity and being clever is amazing, but also just the sheer volume of people that are on this platform. As I last checked, there are more than 26,000 Whirlpool employees using Whirlpool 360. And this is all the way from your CEO who, again, we’ll get to a little bit later, down to the factory workers. And I’m curious specifically related to the factory workers. What is their benefit from being in it? What’s in it for them and are you surprised at their level of engagement and enthusiasm?
Kathy Craig: No, because we really primed our plant communicators to speak to their audience. So we have a lot to learn from them about what content their employees are looking for. And then we just helped them get onto the platform, provided some assets for them to promote the tool, and they took it away. They’ve been doing a great job. So I would say each channel speaks to its own audience or audiences. So from the manufacturing floor, they will convey information about a line in a plant or some plant closing due to weather. Of course, you know we are in the Midwest, so we do get a lot of snow in winter. They’ll also promote things like their lunch menu. What I have found too, manufacturing in our workforce, loves contests. And so they, for every event that they have, let’s say for a holiday, they will often post pictures of their employees.
We have one specific channel that we call #WhirlpoolLife that the employees can submit their own photos. And so that has become a great tool to engage the manufacturing workforce as well as just other teams around the company. So from manufacturing then to our business functions, they communicate with their teams and are creating some fun engagement. For instance, our HR leadership came to us and asked if they could have a private channel where they can just communicate. They wanted to actually even share some of their own family news, get to know their teammates a little bit better, and they’ve been utilizing it that way. And then it goes to the CEO, as you said, fielding like a weekly question every week that he answers through video. And I would say it’s unedited video.
So each channel’s content is targeted to its audience. And we’ve been very intentional with those who ask us if they can have a channel too, to really look at what is your strategy, how often are you planning on communicating, who is your audience? And really helping them tailor their content specifically to their audience.
Chuck Gose: Now, you mentioned these plant communicators, it sounds like they’re in charge of the local channels, are driving the local channels. Have you seen some plants have better success than others or are all plants about the same?
Kathy Craig: No, we definitely have some that are more successful than the others and it’s really a matter of mindset, of who’s running it. So we have some just hero plant communicators who, one, love their workforce. And so they have put their all into what they’re doing. And I would say sometimes it’s not, they’ve got to actually sell this quite a bit to their plant leaders because the plant leaders, I will say, absolutely still love the printed daily newsletter that they hand out to the workforce as they walk in. So there’s been some just need for change in those areas and it’s usually the plant communicators who are ready to hold up the banner and say, “Hey, you know what, you might not be aligned but can we experiment with this for three weeks, see where we get.” And then they can show the wins and the metrics back to their plant leaders. And those are the communicators that are really making a difference.
Chuck Gose: When you and I first met, you spoke at SocialChorus’ FutureComms and Customer Forum event April 2019, in New York City. And one of the highlights for me was you shared examples of videos that your CEO, Mark Bitzer, shares on the platform and as I mentioned earlier, getting leadership engagement and involvement is one thing, but getting them to really participate and have themselves get value out of a platform like Whirlpool 360 is something else. Talk about those videos and how well those are received from employees.
Kathy Craig: Mark has been doing an amazing job and I will say, he stepped into leadership only a few short years ago and has really changed the culture here at Whirlpool Corp. We have fantastic engagement on his videos. We’ve found that it is really making a difference. Transparency has changed exponentially in the few short years that he’s embraced the tool. And I would attribute a lot of this is that he’s on the tool and it’s putting his voice into our employees hands. And he has, with that change of leadership, he’s really made great inroads and strides to increasing our diversity inclusion. Seeing women promoted in leadership. It’s just absolutely changing the culture, but it also comes from a CEO who’s willing to be very transparent. We put a camera, just the iPhone video in front of them each week. It is completely unedited. If the phone rings, he will actually stop in the middle of what he’s saying and say, it’s important that I answer this call.
And so, at that point, we’ve had to cut a few times and then he gets back. But it’s very natural. It’s very authentic. He has said in a few videos when employees submit these questions, I don’t know everything that’s going on in the company. I can’t know everything. And it’s really, it just created this great, great culture. He said at one point he was saying, if I’m strongly convinced, if our employees understand the broader context of the entire company, it allows them to make better decisions in their respective work environments. And it is really true. And it has trickled down from leadership and to other leaders now. And I think it’s just allowed or enabled us to see this culture rise of experimentation, that it’s okay to even fail at times, if we’re being completely transparent and trying our best. So he’s made great inroads for us there.
Chuck Gose: Yeah, I think this is a lesson for communicators out there listening. If your CEO says that she doesn’t have time to do videos, here’s a CEO of a 93,000 person global company and is making time to do these videos. So it’s not about having the time, it’s about making the time and making it important. And your employees are the ones who benefit in addition to anyone else from leadership team who would be, and you had mentioned that these videos and then one of his goals was helping people kind of understand the broader spectrum of where Whirlpool is and all of the corporate goals. What other successes have you seen out there? What other outcomes does Whirlpool 360 drive across the business?
Kathy Craig: Really, it drives employee engagement. And so, I will say, we’ve had decent engagement scores, but I wouldn’t say stellar. One of the things that I’ve been most excited about, particularly on the reputation team, is that we’ve utilized the tool. Our team corporate newsroom really took a deeper dive into what does our reputation look like and how can we actually make our reputation better? And so what we did was we looked at some very strategic, very intentional strategic ways we can tell our stories, where are we are excelling and then using the tool to put those stories into our employees hands. And they have shared it and amplified that on their social networks. So yeah, like I said, yes we’re communicating internally, but externally what I’ve seen through the tool is that last year in the US, our corporate reputation from the reputation institute, we were at number 33. And this year we moved up to number three.
Chuck Gose: Wow, that’s quite the jump.
Kathy Craig: I attribute that to our employees. Yep. Just a little bit of intentionality on how we’re going to tell our stories and then putting them into our employee’s hands.
Chuck Gose: Two thoughts on things you shared there. One is, I really appreciate your honesty in talking about engagement, because I will be the first to admit, I’m a skeptic when I hear a company talk about their high engagement scores. Because I’m thinking, are you really measuring the right things there? So the fact that you guys recognize that we have some work to do, says you are doing a very honest assessment of engagement. So kudos to you guys for that. And then also your point about reputation. I think about that as an inside out score, a lot of times, if your own employees don’t think very highly of the company, then surely that’s going to spread to your external audiences, your consumers, the general public. But if your employees believe in the company and the company has a great reputation with them, that’s only going to bleed externally.
Kathy Craig: Exactly. They’re our greatest advocates. They really are. Our greatest marketers, our greatest advocates.
Chuck Gose: Now, we talked about at the beginning, the people that are communicators that are on this team and monitoring the platform and the governance and obviously doing their own communication roles, but how many people who, what we call like small “c” communicators, not necessarily on their titles and publishers out there, do you have putting content out on Whirlpool 360? I don’t need an exact number, but how many people are out there doing it?
Kathy Craig: Yeah, we have a little over 60, I would say content contributors, publishers, and admins.
Chuck Gose: And that’s amazing, given the success of the platform. Yes, you’re a 92,000 person company, you’ve got tens of thousands of employees using the platform, but that’s great to see that size of a team, really focused on not just building Whirlpool 360 as a platform, but doing all those things we talked about before, which is, getting the word out about the company and whether it is things like reputation and improving that score from 33 to three, which was remarkable, all the way down to that plant communicator, helping to create that connection with the factory worker, who maybe before didn’t really have much of an insight into the corporate dialogue but certainly does now.
Kathy Craig: Sure, sure. One other event I forgot to share with you, which has been really successful that we did a few weeks ago, as I said, as we just sit around and brainstorm, do these ‘what ifs,’ ‘what if we could do this?’ ‘What if we could do that?’ And we did learn at Future Comms, actually, that we could livestream through the app. And so for Whirlpool 360, our employee advocacy team combined sponsored an event called bookmark it. Mark is our CEO and so it was called ‘Book Mark It’ and it was really a book discussion on what books he is reading. And so employees had a chance to preregister and attend a book chat with our CEO on his favorite books and why he likes them. And it was dialogue back and forth. And different employees had a chance to preregister from all over the globe and attend this very private, what felt like private book chat, with our CEO and then we streamed it through the app.
Since attendance was limited for those participating, we were able to then save the recording and then make it available to all the other employees who were not in the small chat. But we had a really, really great feedback from those who participated who don’t necessarily sit at our headquarters and they have very limited exposure to our CEO. And it really made them feel like they were sitting at the fireplace, chatting with the CEO, and sharing why they like certain books and why he reads certain books and what he gained from those. And it’s been a great thing. So I think we’re going to see a lot more live streaming.
Chuck Gose: And here’s a few things I love with that. One, I love anytime you can use livestream and embed into a platform that creates that live connection for an employee. So that’s great. But, separately, the thing I love most about what you shared, is that we all have different ways of connecting with people. And what you shared around the book, that’s about him building a connection. He could have been out there talking about sustainability and that’s kind of connected with the new audience.
He might be out there talking about profitability. That’s going to connect with a certain audience. And some people are honestly going to connect with the CEO about what they like to read. That he can and wants to answer these questions for employees is amazing.
Kathy Craig: Yeah, exactly. I agree.
Chuck Gose: Well, Kathy, thank you again for being on Culture, Comms, & Cocktails and we’re going to wrap this up the way we do every episode. So we’ve talked about the culture there. We’ve talked about the comms there at Whirlpool. What I don’t know yet, Kathy, is what’s your favorite cocktail?
Kathy Craig: Coffee trumps cocktails for me. It gives me the buzz I need and yeah, anything coffee is my cocktail of choice.
Chuck Gose: Very good Kathy. Well great job to you and the team for Whirlpool 360 has now been out there for several years. It’s obviously a great resource for employees, tons of attention and care and creativity. I love those examples from you and the team and obviously also seeing the leadership there, get a lot out of it. So thanks to you guys for all the great work you do in Whirlpool 360 and keep it up.
Kathy Craig: Well thanks Chuck. And thanks to everybody at SocialChorus for giving us such a great app and for the continuous development. We truly appreciate it and I know we’ve kind of grown and it’s been a great experience. I’m really, really pleased with everything that we’ve done so far together.
Chuck Gose: If you enjoyed what you heard from this episode and want to check out others, find Culture, Comms, & Cocktails on Apple podcast, Google Play, Spotify, or wherever you like to listen. And when you do, hit that subscribe button so you don’t miss any future episodes. This has been Culture, Comms, & Cocktails, internal comm served straight up. Thanks for listening.