Dow Chemical Develops Leaders by Sending Them to Work in Unfamiliar Surroundings:
Dow Chemical’s mission is “To passionately create innovation for our stakeholders at the intersection of chemistry, biology, and physics.” It intends to do so by maximizing long-term value per share by being the most valuable and respected science company in the world. Its strategy is to invest in a market-driven port-folio of advantaged and technology-enabled businesses that create value for its shareholders and customers.As Dow Chemical expands its global presence, it needs employees who have the ability to network and develop relationships with local commercial and gov-ernment leaders. To develop global leaders, Dow had been sending high-potential employees to a week of leadership development classes at its Midland, Mich-igan, headquarters. After completing the classes, employees spent the next week in one of Dow’s international locations such as Shanghai, China; Sao Paulo, Brazil; or Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Each of these locations had Dow regional headquarters with work environments similar to what employees had experienced at corporate headquarters.Dow’s global manager for leadership develop-ment and its vice president for human resources both recognized that the program had a major weakness. The program was missing a hands-on experience that would teach participants how to understand culture context. Exposing participants to problems within different cultural contexts helps get learners to self-reflect and consider how they deal with uncertainty and change. It also helps develop leaders who can understand what needs to be done in doing business in a new culture. Dow wanted to change the program to produce a learning experience that would develop leadership skills, as well as the humility and integrity needed for doing business in new markets.Dow developed a new leadership development program, Leadership in Action, with its first location in Accra, Ghana, where the company had recently opened its first office. The program is part of Dow’s approach to meeting the world’s basic needs by match-ing its employees with organizations that need sup-port for sustainable development projects, especially in business growth areas for Dow. Accra, the western African country’s capital, was chosen because it pro-vided a way to get potential leaders to understand a new business territory, develop a new market, and establish relationships in the local community. Thirty-six high-potential employees were organized into seven teams. Each team was assigned to work with a non-government organization to help with a project that the community needed. Projects included determining where to grow plants that could provide medicine for malaria and working with a trade school to develop an education curriculum including science, technology, engineering, and math. Program participants spent five months virtually planning and collaborating from their home offices. This helped them develop their consulting skills and adapt to unexpected events, such as the sudden loss of electricity or telephone service. After working virtually for five months, the group trav-eled to Africa to examine their finished projects.Participants in the second class worked in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where Dow was considering opening an office. One of the teams worked with a team of IBM employees to develop marketing to promote hygiene and sanitation practices. These participants gained valuable skills in collaborating with both humanitar-ian groups and corporate partners. The teams work-ing in Ghana and Ethiopia both had to learn how to solve problems in a culture and community that was extremely different from the one to which they were accustomed. They had to focus on understanding social structures and values of the people in the com-munities to create meaningful, accepted, and useful solutions. Both groups also represented Dow Chemi-cal in news interviews, which enhanced their media relations skills and their understanding of how to best represent the company. Surveys completed after the program was completed show that participants feel they have a new view of the world. Almost all partici-pants wanted to continue to be involved in some way working on Dow’s growth in Africa.Dow employees have worked on a number of other projects in Ethiopia, such as identifying sustain-able practices for converting solid and liquid waste into fertilizer and helping local agricultural start-up companies gain access to markets. These projects have included partners such as Precise Consult International and Population Services International, as well as universities and colleges. Dow has since deployed the Leadership in Action program to Indo-nesia in 2015 and the Phillipines in 2016. In 2017, forty-three employees were sent to Hanoi and Hai Phong in Vietnam. Teams worked on projects such as restoring and protecting the West Lake ecosystem and helping local citizens understand the importance of water resource monitoring to help address water pollution and flooding.
Why did Dow Chemical decide to develop the “Leadership in Action” program and What do you think is Dow Chemical’s business strategy, and how does their Leadership program contribute to that?
The case study states that employee surveys after the program were positive (“participants feel they have a new view of the world…”). What other outcome data, metrics or key performance indicators would you want to measure to determine if the program was successful?
What are the advantages and disadvantages of the “Leadership in Action” program compared to more traditional leadership development programs? If you worked for Dow Chemical, would you want to participate? Why or why not?