The starting point for the redesign of learning at Whirlpool was based on the competency of innovation. The first step was to create a knowledge management (KM) culture and system. “One of the biggest challenges of developing innovation skills with knowledge management was the needed change in culture,” explained Gil Urban, lead director of global e-enabled organization services for Whirlpool Corp. “Connecting people with the need to know to people who have the knowledge or to the knowledge in the KM system is essential.”
The next step was changing expectations regarding individual training and development at Whirlpool. Employees and managers had long enjoyed a state-of-the-art training center that organized tactical training classes in desktop applications, soft skills, management training and proprietary technical and business process training. Employees had come to expect face-to-face training delivered by Whirlpool and professional trainers at a location remote from their daily place of work.
Freeing up resources and making time for the organization to develop new competencies required significant changes. The challenge was balancing demands for tactical training such as Microsoft Office, negotiation, coaching and proprietary systems skills, with the new demand for strategic skills to support the competency leadership development initiative. All of this had to be done with no additional resources! Whirlpool took three decisive steps to make resources available: reallocating internal training resources, using technology to reduce costs and measuring results at level 4. Looking back on this process, Urban said, “If you do this, start as early as possible to establish e-learning as a tool to deliver learning as part of a blended model. Stress that e-learning is part of a ‘blend’—that is, e-learning is a complement to face-to-face and not a replacement.”
The first step was to redeploy internal resources from tactical training to strategic leadership development. That meant that many of the desktop technical skills courses and soft skills courses were no longer organized centrally—individuals and functions would need to organize more of their own training.
Organizing tactical training was complemented with a significant amount of e-learning technology. Where it made sense, courses were put online using LearningSpace for IBM Mindspan Solutions. Using self-paced courses freed up Whirlpool resources for assignment on other products and significantly reduced costs. The ability to self-roster resulted in a reduction in support staff and made training available at the workers’ job site. In addition, responsibility for delivering some proprietary courses related to technology and business process was returned to the line of business. Asking the lines of business to deliver these courses created better alignment between the course and the business needs and resulted in more effective training.
Whirlpool resources were then redeployed to embed innovation and to deliver leadership development around the core competencies. As a result of the new program, three levels of innovation-skilled employees were created—Innovation Ambassadors, who understand the value of innovation and the concepts; Innovation Mentors, who are recognized leaders with the skills needed to foster innovation; and Innovation Consultants, who are full-time staff involved in helping divisions adopt and implement innovation techniques.
Contrary to where most training and development start, Whirlpool started with Kirkpatrick’s level 4. Urban will be the first to admit that measuring bottom-line results is hard. Knowledge management has contributed to innovation embedment, and e-learning will be a component of blended learning for competency development. Evidence of the success of the innovation initiative has been seen in the recent release of Whirlpool Corp.’s new line of products.