When’s the last time you got a bit gnarly on the job?
Whirlpool employees might not spend their days shreddin’ rad barrels along the Pacific coast, but they are well equipped to ride the waves of corporate life—thanks to a yearly initiative cooked up by the company’s comms team.
Born in 2016, Whirlpool’s “Get gNARly” campaign was unveiled. Conceived as a mashup of a “TED Talk and a rock concert”—as described by Whirlpool’s director of corporate communications, Angie Seger—the 2017 iteration featured “Hamilton”-style musical numbers punctuated by presentations sharing the company’s objectives.
Why gNARly, you ask? The name is a pun spun from Whirlpool’s “North American Region,” and the company sees the term as a call for employees to take on challenges and “embrace new ideas.” It’s become a highly anticipated yearly event for staffers and execs alike.
“One of the most important benefits for the company is making our executives more vulnerable (we ask them to do some crazy things), which in turn makes them more approachable for our employees. It simply changes the dynamic between senior leaders and employees,” Seger says. “Our leaders find the most value in that type of direct employee feedback.”
Transparency amid tumult
In 2018, Whirlpool faced serious financial challenges—which resulted in layoffs. Despite the turbulence, Whirlpool’s leadership decided to proceed with the scheduled gNARly festivities, thanks in large part to employees’ rave reviews and engagement scores. The resulting plan earned a Ragan Employee Communications Award for “Best Internal Event Strategy.”
In response to the corporate theme of “Think differently, and act quickly,” Whirlpool’s comms team baked up an “escape room” event based on the company’s key strategic objectives. Whirlpool communicators prepped its 26,000-plus North American Region employees with a video featuring the organization’s chief objectives for the year, and staffers followed up with a “two-week teaser campaign featuring daily competitions to solve brainteasers.”
To stir up interest and build anticipation, Whirlpool doled out “Bravo awards”—its internal recognition system offering points that can be redeemed for gift cards or merchandise—to workers who solved puzzles the fastest. The final teaser revealed that 2018’s big event would be an “escape room experience.”
“Our employees definitely expect to be surprised and delighted when it comes to our strategy rollouts, but the goal with our employees is that they have an excellent awareness and understanding of our strategy and priorities,” Seger says.
As for logistics, the “escape” event was anchored around one-hour sessions in which up to a dozen employees participated. These sessions were held up to six times each day—and had to be extended two weeks beyond its original closing date due to popular demand.
Employees received an assignment: Whirlpool’s North American Region president had gone missing, and his administrative assistant had to find him for a call with the CEO. The experience required teams to work together to solve puzzles connected to the strategy—but also required them to think differently and act quickly. After cracking the code, employees would see a video message showing the call with the CEO. Those completing the challenge on time received commemorative T-shirts.
More than 1,000 employees and 118 teams participated, achieving a 69% success rate. Follow-up research and surveys yielded glowing reviews of the event—and showed solid understanding of corporate goals and priorities.
All that seems pretty gnarly, though Whirlpool’s communication team went a step further: The last Friday in July has officially been declared National Get Gnarly Day.
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