At Whirlpool, we don’t believe in telling people how to do their jobs. We trust them, let them explore and widen their own job scope
You have been with Whirlpool for more than 30 years. What keeps people so connected with the brand? How do you retain people?
It is indeed very unusual and interesting. Whenever I meet the younger lot, they ask me why I joined the company and what made me stick despite having so many other opportunities. At first glance, the traction might be the brand itself but the scope of the job is the primary reason for me staying so long. For example, I may be called a manager here and someone else in some other company may also be at the same level, but there would be a huge difference between the opportunities our jobs would offer. My job would offer a more versatile experience and larger individual responsibilities and freedom to carry them out as compared to others. At Whirlpool, we don’t believe in telling people how to do their jobs. We trust them, let them explore and widen their own job scope. Our values, in terms of how we treat people, are very rich. We encourage transparency in all respects because we believe ‘what you see is what you get’. It gets validated when I meet the next generation leaders.
Considering each location has its own nuances, how do you scale a consistent culture across locations?
I strongly believe that people matter! Culture implementation lies in the hands of people and it is mostly led by leaders. Our people and HR practices reinforce this culture across the company. We believe it’s important to trust people, empower them and let them work to their full potential. We do not try to put people in boxes because people are bigger than that. We let them make their own choices and work on those.
What are the levers that you as an HR Head see as useful in helping reinforce the culture?
If you look at the strategic architect of our organization, as the vision and mission evolved, the organization evolved, but the people have always been at the front and the centre. The new architecture, however, has been carved out with four major strategic points: Product Leadership, Brand Leadership, Operating Excellence and People Excellence. These are the four key drivers in the company. With all these in place and people at the centre, it’s easy to reinforce all of it in the leadership model, especially in the values of the company, which are articulated all the time. We make sure to reinforce, teach and most importantly practice these in our day-to-day behaviours. Be it our talent system, performance management system or anything else, these things are well embedded in all activities.
You have worked at different levels in the organization. How has the business expectation from HR changed over time?
It has evolved dramatically as business leaders today are sophisticated users of HR practices and services and clearly know what a good HR system looks like. It starts with our business leaders as they understand the importance of HR practices and have huge expectations from the system. They have specific expectations from analytics, data and good business decisions. We are organizing ourselves to ensure the shared services and centres of excellence build people with the right skills and competitive functional expertise. We have also put in a great deal in leveraging HR analytics in helping us doing things better, faster, cheaper and using data smarter – working on things that are most relevant for business.
We also rolled out People Excellence as a part of our strategy under which we identify, ‘extraordinary performance’, ‘great people’ as talent and ‘winning culture’. These have very specific definition, enablers and measurements and for the first time we recently completed a global assessment around these categories. It was both qualitative and quantitative with an appropriate baseline focused on the drivers of these categories, great people and winning culture. We looked at how well connected we are with the business strategy and the linkages were very impressive.
How do you use talent analytics in a smarter way and what is the focus area?
We do have external benchmarks and a good set of best practices from world-class companies to refer to. Internally, we have efficient measures to best utilize the data. We do very practical categorization of the data in terms of gender, nationality etc. to leverage it in a more objective way. Under the survey, we also have a leadership effectiveness score, which can be further related to the overall engagement levels. Such correlations mostly reveal that our best leaders drive the best engagement levels, connecting people to the business strategy.
We cross-reference this with our best talent, taking data related to performance, engagement and the leadership effectiveness score. All this data is used in a very practical way, assessing leaders in the company and identifying ones who are below the norm. They are given a report so that they know where they stand against other leaders, what are the current region or market norms and a specific action plan to work upon their performance as a leader. The goal is to keep the performance and experience consistent across regions and cultures avoiding any kind of variability.
Talent analytics is also very optimally used to assess the talent pipeline health for succession planning through a pipeline health number. It also helps us track the pipeline diversity, breaking down to the smallest markets, which is also one of the people excellence metrics. Our talent analytics may not be much different from others but it is unique in the way we put it to use as we make all our leaders accountable to their own performance and consequent appraisals.
What are your big agendas and the biggest challenge?
My biggest agenda is two-fold: One is the HR service delivery model that will focus on making HR better, faster, cheaper and a function that’s easier to do business with. The second is driving people excellence – delivering significant business results for the company and a better experience for the employees.
My biggest challenge is talent! It’s different everywhere in the world. Demographics vary country/region-wise and every market has unique talent challenges. Good companies always want more than a fair share of their talent.
How do you measure the RoI on talent?
We have special intake programs, which are measured against the regular intake programs, to understand if the performance is better in either case. Apart from metrics on the front end, we also have development metrics. While focusing on helping everyone develop to their fullest potential, we also segment talent, as some roles or people need more than coaching and in such cases it is also hard to make a decision on providing additional investment. With these metrics and processes, the return on talent investment comes out clear. However, it again comes back to sophistication, as now HR professionals do not have to put in their time and energy justifying return on talent investment. Good business leaders understand the returns may be intangible and it’s not always possible to measure everything that may be adding value. It all comes down to the increasing sophistication of business!