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Whirlpool’s early-career immersion program helps create a talent pipeline
BOSTON—When Whirlpool discovered over a decade ago that there wasn’t enough young sales talent in the organization, it did something unusual: It took a cue from reality TV. Building off the idea behind the popular MTV series “The Real World,” the appliance manufacturer introduced its Real Whirled sales immersion program, in which a group of strangers live together—minus the camera crew—and undergo intense preparation for a sales role with the company.
While the approach may be unconventional, the results are impressive: Whirlpool now has a diverse, multigenerational sales force that mirrors the company’s customer base, according to Ashley Czubak, organizational development and learning program manager for early-career sales programs. She described the Real Whirled program in-depth at The Future of Work conference on Dec. 8.
Three times a year, eight recent college graduates arrive in Benton Harbor, Mich., where the global 100,000-employee company is headquartered, to participate in the 10-week Real Whirled program. Participants live in a two-story, eight-bedroom, eight-bathroom condo with four kitchens and four laundry rooms equipped with Whirlpool appliances.
During the day, they learn about Whirlpool products; at night, they go back to their home base and use those products. In one exercise, Czubak said, participants bake a cake and then promptly run it through the dishwasher. This is an experience they can then share with customers.
In addition to becoming intimately familiar with Whirlpool appliances, participants also learn facilitation and professional selling skills, develop their business acumen, and gain an understanding of the value supply chain through visits to manufacturing facilities and other locations.
The program’s content has evolved over time, Czubak said. In the beginning, for example, the main goal was to train people and fill roles. In 2009, however, Whirlpool started placing a greater emphasis on leadership development based on participant feedback. In addition, the program now develops participants’ facilitation skills rather than their training skills. That’s so participants can learn how to engage audiences instead of talking at them, Czubak explained.
Since its launch in 1999, the Real Whirled program has welcomed more than 50 classes and graduated over 430 people. Many of them stay at Whirlpool for years.
Recruitment and Selection
Whirlpool actively recruits participants at campus events and posts the opportunity on its careers webpage. Additional people hear about the program through word-of-mouth. Hundreds of people apply. To whittle down the applicant pool, Czubak and her team look for people who held leadership roles in college or who had responsibility for specific initiatives while in school. The selection committee picks about 12 people to interview for each class.
The interview process consists of four steps:
About 75 to 90 percent of interviews take place virtually, Czubak said, so many candidates never set foot in the office until after they accept an offer to participate in the program.
Shortly after an offer is extended and long before participants move into the condo, Whirlpool begins working to retain them. “There’s no doubt people want to be engaged early on,” Czubak said. So Whirlpool helps these individuals connect with:
The company also provides pre-program book recommendations, communicates about the culture and sends swag. “Millennials love swag,” Czubak noted.
“The individuals who leave this program are 100-percent ready” for sales roles within the company, Czubak said. After they’ve been with Whirlpool for about a year, managers start talking to them about future roles with the company in an effort to keep them on even longer.
Erin Binney is a staff writer forSHRM.
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