Engaging a large, global workforce can be challenging, and Whirlpool Corporation has a staggering 92,000 employees spread across the globe.
In our recent webinar, Nicole Alvino, co-founder and chief strategic officer at SocialChorus chatted with Kathy Craig, senior manager of corporate reputation, Angie Seger, director of corporate communications, and Emily Kirchner, manager of NAR communications at Whirlpool. During the webinar, Nicole, Kathy, Angie, and Emily discussed the following tactics to increase employee engagement:
- Leverage CEO communications to increase transparency
- Converting the workforce into brand advocates
- Connecting different departments with the WHR360 mobile app (powered by SocialChorus)
- Aligning communications with business strategy
- Using social networking to connect employees
Six Ways to Connect With Employees Using an Omni-Channel Approach
#1 Involve your CEO in corporate communications initiatives.
CEOs set the tone for an entire organization. By involving your CEO in corporate communications, you can connect your workforce to your mission, values, and culture.
Whirlpool is a 100-year-old company with 65 locations and $2.1 billion annually in home appliance sales. It can be challenging for a large, well-established company to reach every employee and communicate the company’s values effectively.
In 2017, Mark Bitzer took over as CEO at Whirlpool. Here were some of his goals.
- Mark wanted to connect with employees on a personal level.
- He wanted to increase transparency in the organization.
- He believed employees who could relate to senior leaders would be happier and thus drive better business results.
- He personally wanted to be more accessible to the entire workforce.
All this was very exciting for the Whirlpool internal comms team. Partnering with SocialChorus, they launched the WHR360 app to help connect the Mark with employees. The internal comms team created a dedicated channel, “Mark’s World,” for all CEO-related posts. They solicited questions from their global workforce to create a greater connection between the CEO and employees. They continue to solicit and receive questions; and many of them are about quality control issues, business conditions, and what books Mark is reading. Since Whirlpool established the channel, more than 500 questions have been submitted.
The Whirlpool team also created a hashtag on the app, #WhirlpoolLife, as a dedicated channel where employees can share casual photos. Mark also shares photos of events that he attends or manufacturing plants that he visits.
The comms team also promotes special events on the WHR360 app and hosts informal live streams (using an iPhone to live stream is cost-effective and still adds a personal touch). Workers can engage with corporate news and find the latest information on bonus packages.
Whirlpool communications rely on employee feedback. The comms teams survey workers to discover if they like Mark’s communications. So far they have received very positive responses to his messages.
#2 Make your employees brand advocates to drive business value.
Every employee is a potential brand advocate.
When you engage employees effectively, they can help generate brand exposure, recommend products and services, and enhance your corporate reputation.
Reputation is very important for an organization because it builds equity. The Reputation Institute found that companies with an excellent reputation are 3.2 times more likely to be trusted to adequately handle a crisis than those with an average reputation.
A strong brand reputation also:
- mitigates risk,
- creates resiliency, and
- attracts top talent to your company.
Between 2018 and 2019, Whirlpool’s reputation score, as calculated by Forbes “America’s Most Reputable Companies,” went from 33 to 3 in the U.S. During this time, the comms team put messaging tools in the hands of employees. They created a channel called “People Stories” where employees could share personal experiences. On International Women’s Day, Whirlpool put out a call for all their female team members to share inspirational anecdotes. This campaign brought together global regions and united employees.
Whirlpool also celebrates Manufacturing Month as a way to highlight the hard work of its manufacturing teams. One of the stories featured on the WHR360 app was a day-in-the-life of a young manufacturer at their Greensville, Carolina plant.
The comms team also shares product and brand announcements so that employees are fully informed about new releases. Workers share innovation, social responsibility, and sustainability initiatives. The Whirlpool team even calls employees that are very engaged on the platform “(W)influencers.” Employees can be your greatest asset and drive business value if you give them the tools to become brand advocates.
#3 Offer opportunities to other departments and teams to participate in communications efforts.
A dedicated workforce platform serves more than just your comms team.
As workers began to heavily adopt and engage on WHR360, other internal teams recognized the value in using the app to spread their message. For example, the Continuous Improvement team is an internal group who work to embed Continuous Improvement methodology throughout the organization. The comms team created the #whirlpoollife channel and had the Continuous Improvement team post whenever the team participated in a training activity or special event, using the hashtag SimpleCI. So far in 2019, they have had over 80 posts generated from a 15 person team from locations all over the world.
The Continuous Improvement team also has a newsletter that celebrates success stories and shares employee experiences. Internal teams will recognize the value in your platform as workers become more engaged and active.
#4 Allow employees to post updates to your communications channels at their discretion.
Democratizing communications involves encouraging employees to drive the conversation and participate in your messaging.
WHR360 acts as a semi-social networking tool to connect workers all around the world. How does this work? #WhirlpoolLife is an open channel that enables employees to automatically post. Although this may seem like a risk to let employees post at their own discretion, it turned out to be a great decision. True, communicators may be used to driving the direction of the conversation. However, you may get amazing results by letting employees take the reins: at Whirlpool, employees enjoy the opportunity to actively contribute to the messaging of their organization.
#5: Leverage different channels to appeal to a variety of different employee segments.
Consider how workers have used #WhirlpoolLife as a space to share slice-of-life posts. Many shared pictures of their coworkers and workplaces. Whirlpool also has a variety of different channels to appeal to different employees. Channels include:
- Diversity and Inclusion
- Creativity and Design
- Brazil Whirlpool life
- China stories
- What’s cooking
Each of these channels provides a space for workers with different interests to come together and connect over their shared experiences.
One of the features of WHR360 that the comms team takes advantage of is the ability to target employees by geography. This makes it easier to connect similar team members and segment your messages by demographic. Employees can subscribe to specific channels to create a personalized, targeted experience. Relevancy drives engagement; and having individual channels for specific interests or topics is a great way to increase usage of the platform.
#6 Create exciting, motivational experiences at annual conferences, events, and planning sessions.
Employees appreciate and enjoy material that is experiential and exciting. If you take the time to craft an engaging experience, you’ll create deeper connections with them and motivate them to perform in their jobs.
The Whirlpool team had been receiving feedback that workers were having a hard time connecting their individual work to overall organizational objectives. Whirlpool realized its yearly strategy sessions, which brought together employees from all over North America, were filled with leaders lecturing from a stage. There was very little “wow” factor, and teams quickly got tired of sitting and listening to presentations.
In 2016 the North American Region (NAR) communications team reimagined the rollout sessions. They had a rock concert-style presentation that was felt more like a TED Talk than a formal conference. In 2017 they went even further and had a “gNARly” presentation which featured a live on-stage music presentation.
In 2018 they opted to leverage WHR360 to get their workforce excited about the corporate strategy session. They had a campaign of teasers on the app that ultimately revealed the theme for the 2018 conference. The theme was “gNARly strategy breakout” where employees had to break out of an escape room. In order to break out, teams had to search WHR360 for articles that contained hidden codes for how to escape. This was a wonderful opportunity for employees to familiarize themselves with the app and have a fun time learning about corporate strategy.
People loved the escape room and incorporation of the app. One employee commented, “What a great way to communicate the strategic imperatives! Love the idea of using a hands-on experience to teach versus another meeting where employees are being presented to. Seriously, one of the best ‘meetings’ I have been to at Whirlpool!”
Whirlpool has maintained a high level of strategic alignment since it implemented experiential events. Whirlpool was able to effectively tie corporate strategy to the individual work of every employee.
Learn more about communications success at Whirlpool! Listen to the on-demand recording of “Outside The Box Engagement With Whirlpool Corporation.”