In a time when many businesses’ budgets were dwindling, Whirlpool University re-invented its learning methodology, yielding higher impacts to the business through skill acquisition. It began as a simple request to have Whirlpool Corporation Chairman and CEO, Jeff Fettig, teach a strategy course to 100 middle managers. That simple request led to the creation of Whirlpool University’s Closed Loop Learning Method. The Closed Loop Learning Method integrates the power of online, classroom, application of skills and the employee’s manager enabling the learning to come alive for the employee. The method has had dramatic impacts on speed and scale of deployment as well as increased application of skills while economizing on the cost of training.
The Closed Loop Learning Method was created by taking strategic advantage of an unplanned set of marketplace-driven circumstances. As 2008 was nearing a close, the world was dipping into the longest and deepest recession that any of us in our professional careers had experienced. Investments in human capital, product development, marketing and customer service were challenged and decisions were made by top leadership to make smart, high-value investments while identifying ways to increase efficiency and productivity. Whirlpool Corporation’s Chairman and CEO, Jeff Fettig, was dedicated to building skills and capability, and he challenged the University to deliver higher impact training at a reduced cost.
The University clearly needed to challenge several orthodoxies including primarily teaching face to face in the classroom. Early in 2009, the University introduced a new online series teaching Whirlpool Corporation’s Strategic Architecture. Previously, we taught this content in face to face classroom events. We transitioned the classroom course to an action learning format led by leaders of the company. The first classroom delivery leveraged the online series as pre-work. Jeff Fettig was asked to teach the face to face session to 100 middle managers. In that session, Jeff asked the University staff two questions: “What comes after this session for the participants?” and “How will their managers support their learning?” From those two questions, the Closed Loop Learning method was created and is now at the core of Whirlpool University’s learning methodology.
Training leads to skill application that leads to business results. Time is precious and adults want to spend time on learning skills that impact their work and/or ready them for their next career move. Senior leadership invests in training that drives business results.
Managers facilitate rather than impede the learning process. Higher degrees of skill application are dependent on manager(s) encouraging the use of the new skill and coaching others to master the skill.
Deploy learning fast, deep, and wide. Technology has enabled the deployment of learning to many, in a cost-effective way, rather than the few who can get to a classroom.
What will become known as the Great Recession starts.
January 2008 – October 2008
All learning activities focused on learning skills to apply to business challenges.
Proposed 2009 training budget reduced from 2008.
Leadership accepts and funds Whirlpool University proposal for a new Learning Management System (LMS) to deliver all learning online with a few exceptions, such as Six Sigma. Previously, 95 percent of all learning was delivered face-to-face in the classroom environment.
New LMS acquired.
Senior leadership approves and sponsors development of strategic online series, “Foundations of Whirlpool.”
Chairman/CEO and Executive Committee set a Balanced Scorecard goal for all employees at manager level and above, to complete Foundations of Whirlpool by the end of the following year.
January 2009 – March 2009
Whirlpool University develops “Foundations of Whirlpool,” comprised of nine thirty-minute eLearning modules teaching the company’s Strategic Architecture.
As part of the Foundations of Whirlpool online series, employees are encouraged to submit cost- savings ideas, collaborate and build on ideas submitted.
17th month of the recession. The longest post-Depression economic declines prior to 2009 were 16 months each in 1973 and 1981.
Chairman/CEO Jeff Fettig teaches leading strategy to 100 middle managers. Prompted by his questions of how we ensure application and manager support, Whirlpool University invents the Closed Loop Learning Method.
Balanced Scorecard goal to complete the Foundations of Whirlpool series exceeded target of 4,500 managers, with more than 9, 000 salaried employees completing the series, more than 800 unique cost-saving ideas submitted through the online collaboration and a total of 3,500 employees building on these 800 ideas. Several of these ideas are implemented, resulting in significant cost savings.
Foundations of Whirlpool cost of development/deployment: $12.77 per employee.
Implement Whirlpool University badge system to drive a fun factor in completing required courses.
Launched the first full-scale program using all elements of the Closed Loop Learning methodology.
Launched learning products in technologies such as eBooks and digitized visual graphics.
Challenge: There was room for improvement on the application of skills on the job, as evidenced in result-based metrics. Research with participant groups pointed to three areas of improvement in application of skills: manager support, access to job aids, and timing of when the skills are acquired.
Solution: By incorporating online learning into every learning stream, the employee can immediately begin the acquisition of skills, avoiding the delay of a scheduled face-to-face event. In addition, the online learning is available 24/7, well after the completion of the course, allowing access to review concepts, practice tools, etc. In the past, the manager’s role was primarily to approve training. In programs that require significant time or cost investment, the manager now has a stake in the results the employee drives with the newly acquired skills.
Challenge: Limited means to reach all employees to equip them with new skills.
Solution: Online component allows access to all employees immediately on loading a course.
Challenge: Reduction in total training expense and increase in the business impact of training.
Solution: Creation of the Closed Loop Learning Method in the development of every learning program. This methodology prompts the learning architect to integrate online, classroom, manager accountability, business metrics, and just-in-time job aids to every program.
Time to deploy learning solution to all employees. Learning products deployed to all salaried employees in the past took 12 to 14 months. The entire population may now be reached immediately as courses are developed.
Impact on employee engagement. The Foundations of Whirlpool solution was a primary driver selected by employees to result in a 2 point increase in the employee engagement index, called “Professional Development.”
Impact on business results. The Foundations of Whirlpool Closed Loop Learning process resulted in the generation of 800 unique cost saving ideas that yielded significant cost savings for the company.
Total spend on training. With the deployment of the Closed Loop Learning Method, efficiencies in blending online learning with the classroom has resulted in a 50 percent reduction in training spend. As an example, Foundations of Whirlpool costs $12.77/employee, versus previous training courses delivered in the classroom which cost an average of $100/employee.
Challenge the orthodoxies of everything you do. In the case of Whirlpool University, we had to overcome two big orthodoxies: 1) All training delivery must occur face-to-face to ensure quality and impact; 2) The online learning environment was not engaging for our employees. The result was a disruptive pattern of innovation in how we approach and deploy learning at Whirlpool.
Push the envelope in development of courses and programs. We are using different styles of presenting content to our learners that remain cost effective yet engaging and interactive. For example, we recently developed a visual graphic story of our brands and have embedded that into an online learning course. We are spring boarding off of unrelated areas to benefit corporate learning.
Provide the means for managers to step up their game in supporting the application of their employees’ newly learned skills. Engage managers in the learning process and equip them to coach the use of newly acquired skills. Don’t be afraid to hold them accountable for the application of the skills through tracking of assessments and business results.
Example of how technology can fuel innovation from everyone. In the case of this article, opening up cost saving collaboration to everyone resulted in significant impact.
Example of how simple technology can scale and democratize the acquisition of knowledge and skills.