Dow Corning has been recognised globally as a great place to work. Craig Donaldson examines why its employees rate it so highly and details the strategies of a multi-award winning employer of choice
Dow Corning is a global leader in silicon innova
tion and technology, with a net income of almost
$US776 million ($989 million) and $US5.45 bil
lion of sales last calendar year. It provides 7000
products and services to more than 20 industries
such as construction, power and utilities, electronics, oil
and gas, healthcare and the automotive sector.
With 10,200 employees worldwide, Dow Corning has
also won a swag of awards for its employment practices.
In addition to being recognised as one of the best compa
nies to work for in the 2008 Great Place to Work study in
Australia, it has won similar accolades in countries such as
the UK, Germany, Belgium and Korea. The corporation
has also been recognised by Fortune magazine as one of the
100 best companies to work for, and as a best employer in
Asia by Hewitt Associates and the Wall Street Journal Asia.
Judges in these surveys noted Dow Corning for its
“relentless execution of focused human capital programs,
persistent empowerment of managers and its highly efficient
human resource function”.
Local management structure
This is also the experience of Dow Corning in Australia,
according to its HR manager, Tony Swift. He says the com
pany’s success as a best employer goes beyond HR and can
be put down to a range of factors – including a unique man
agement structure and resulting organisational culture.
“We’re structured in a unique and interesting way,” he
says. “There is no CEO or MD here who can direct, mon
itor and control everything, and that really changes the
way we interact with the rest of the company.”
Instead, Dow Corning has a country manager, who works
part-time in a facilities and compliance role rather than a
strategic one. Dow Corning’s local leadership team also com
prises a commercial manager, finance manager and, together
with Swift, the team is responsible for overseeing the direc
tion of the company’s 40 Australian employees.
While the commercial leadership strategy for the com
pany is developed overseas, HR is charged with imple
menting it on a local level.
The PIP process
One of the biggest global initiatives is the performance
improvement program, or PIP. This is a mandatory process
in which managers and employees agree on annual goals.
“The improvement process is significant in that it’s not
just about work,” Swift says. “Employees know exactly
what’s expected of them throughout the year ahead, and
the idea is to set stretch goals that will help them develop.”
Goals are aligned with the strategy of the company,
and the formal tools used in the process are globally con
sistent – which allows the company to benchmark per
formance across every one of its 45 manufacturing or
operating sites around the world.
The PIP process underpins a number of other processes
including learning and development, remuneration, suc
cession planning and performance management.
Training is done in a targetted approach, and aims to bridge
development gaps as well as further develop high poten
tials. Dow Corning offers a comprehensive training calendar throughout the year, and line
managers discuss this with employees to
make sure training options will help them
develop and deliver on their PIP goals.
Workgroup and team leaders organ
ise structured on-the-job functionally
driven technical training, which is sup
ported by “Dow Corning University”, a
global system which offers online com
puter-based training and an enrolment
centre for instructor led training.
In addition, Dow Corning employees
have access to subsidies for further edu
cation including TAFE, undergraduate
and post-graduate studies.
“I think we manage the whole
employee development piece pretty well,”
Swift says. “We don’t have a sheep-dip
approach to training. We spend a lot of
money on it, so it’s important to us from
both a return on investment perspective
as well as improving attraction and reten
tion. Employees want opportunities to
grow and develop, so we need to provide
opportunities for people to do that and
incentivise them to stay here.”
Closely linked to the PIP process and
employee development is succession plan
ning. Dow Corning has a global process
that identifies key positions and a limited
number of high potential employees for
The succession planning process
requires the input of HR and the coun
try’s leadership team, and Swift says the
philosophy behind this is that overseas
reviews of high potential employees don’t
necessarily take into account how they
perform. “It’s important to have people
on the ground here assessing high per
formers first, because they might be
achieving all their goals, but they might
be a nightmare to work with on a day-to-
day basis,” he says.
High potentials are earmarked for spe
cial courses and have access to mentoring
programs, short-term international
assignments and selected projects under
the umbrella of accelerated leadership
The PIP process is closely linked to remu
neration, which allows for strong trans
parency around pay for performance
within Dow Corning. “Remuneration is
a big one for us, so we want to pay for
high performance, as well as attract good
people through competitive pay. Our
staff are a key source of competitive
advantage,” Swift says.
Dow Corning benchmarks salaries
annually through Hay Group to ensure
that pay is both attractive to external tal
ent and an incentive for existing talent to
stay with the business.
Swift says that attrition within Dow
Corning is almost zero within the com
mercial part of the company, while
turnover ranges from 6 to 8 per cent in
other divisions such as customer service.
Health and wellbeing
Dow Corning has a comprehensive health
and wellbeing program and Swift says
this is another important pillar in the
company’s status as a great place to work.
“Wellbeing is a key attraction and reten
tion issue for us. We want employees and
their families to be happy and healthy, as
this is good for the business and the bot
tom line. It’s the right thing to do and we
value their contribution,” says Swift.
One of the initiatives Dow Corning
has put in place is a wellbeing day, in
which the office shuts down for all
employees to get together offsite and
take part in non-work-related, non-com
petitive activities that are based on
healthy lifestyle ideas and socialising.
Employees are encouraged not to discuss business during the day, and Dow
Corning has found that such events also
encourage employees from all levels to get together with no hierarchi
“We keep it simple,” Swift says. “As
an organisation of engineers and
chemists we tend to over-engineer things
a bit, so we remind ourselves to keep it
simple. We reduced the budget for our
most recent wellbeing day, given the cur
rent economic climate, but it ended up
being our most successful day so far.”
Dow Corning has a strong culture of open communication. When communicating with employees, its philosophy is to hide nothing. All employees are encouraged to understand the strategic direction and the financial health of the company. Employees can trust in management to share information early - even if the finer details have not yet been determined. Senior management likes to meet people face to face and address employee groups directly. When a significant change is announced, a senior management team is assigned to different parts of the world so that everyone in the organisation is covered.
Dow Corning encourages open-door, two-way communication. Any employee can send an email to the senior leadership of the company without restriction. Their workgroup-specific communication forums allow for greater interaction among all staff.
They also have a leadership communication forum where selected senior employees get updates and are expected to cascade the information to their teams. In favour of face-to-face communication, senior management visits all sites and engages directly with all employees.
Source: Great Place to Work Institute Australia
There has been a restructure within Dow Corning as a result of the downturn, with a global workforce reduction of 10 per cent. There are no further plans for big restructures, according to Tony Swift, HR manager for Dow Corning, who strongly believes in continuing to drive the above initiatives in order to support attraction and retention of talent.
"If we truly value our staff, then we should not switch off everything we do in bad times. I would question whether companies that cut wellbeing because it's an easy way to save money, for example, really value their employees," he says.
"However, we need to be realistic and, rather than winding everything right back, we can look at what the key programs that add value for our staff are and invest there."
Addendum: Since the time of interviews for this article, Dow Corning Corporation has announced that it will be closing its Sydney office in late September 2009.