WHY ARE SO MANY DOW WORKERS GOING TO GE?

Comments Email Print

The spat between GE and Dow Chemical came to a close after the two companies announced they had resolved their differences. Is anyone really surprised to hear that no ``financial consideration'' was involved in the settlement? Probably not, if you try to think of this whole affair as a highly creative exercise by Dow. It wasn't about theft of trade secrets or the improper disclosure of proprietary information by former Dow employees. It wasn't even about GE's aggressive recruitment of Dow workers. When you get right down to it, it was a play for time — to slow down a feeding frenzy that was starting to become a problem.

Dow Chemical, stung repeatedly by employee defections to GE over the past two years, decided to send a message.As a former GE'r myself, I found it nearly impossible to conjure up an image of GE misconduct, particularly when it comes to recruiting the best talent. The object of Dow's attention was to improve its odds at playing a game that GE was clearly winning. The game was about attracting and retaining mission-critical employees.

The concern Dow Chemical had about improper conduct was probably genuine, serving as the basis for the dispute. However, absent any evidence of wrongdoing, the end result is that people will now think twice about leaving to work for a competitor — not just GE, but any competitor.

Brush away the corporate maneuvering and high drama and what you find is a high-stakes poker game.

The pot consists of the cream of the plastic industry's crop. Companies go to war every day to win the services of the gifted and talented.

In the sci-fi novel Count Zero, author William Gibson creates a world where nations don't fight wars over territory, and empires no longer do battle in the name of ideology. Ethnic or religious groups no longer wage war over political correctness. In Gibson's world, it is corporations that fight over the services of gifted people. While the object of contention in the novel is a biotechnologist, it might as well have been any one of the 14 Dow employees.

I believe the Dow defections were symptomatic of a deeper, more serious flaw in a system that is supposed to be satisfying the needs of Dow's top talent.

I will also wager, however, that Dow is busily trying to find answers to the following questions:

1. Who are the top talents in the company?

2. Who are the top talents in the industry and how are the Dow people stacking up?

3. What tools are being used to ensure their loyalty to Dow Chemical?

4. We know of the 14 who left to work for GE, but how many other key people were lost, and what is being done to replace them?

5. What is Dow doing to grow new talent?

6. Does Dow Chemical have the right people for what it wants to accomplish?

7. Is the system of rewards appropriate? What is the theory of compensation underpinning the approach to rewarding the most productive employees, and what should be done about it?

Insofar as the Dow-GE squabble, hiring managers will do well to come up with some new recruiting rules:

If you chose to contact candidates directly rather than use an external intermediary, that's OK, but use some common sense. Trolling for top talent through the Internet, or a mass mailing to a trade association's membership [GE Polymerland letter to SPE members] is still a numbers game.

Unless you have the corporate name recognition, your best shot at getting the best people is still through target marketing.

From now on, you should solicit candidates with high promise of actually acquiring them.

Put them on your company mailing like any good customer well in advance of making your move.

Presell the job; let them know they are right for you. Conduct job fairs by invitation only. Be prepared to document all discussions. Keep your legal department involved.

Stay fussy about hiring from the outside, and use the interviewing process to profile the winners who work for your competition. The most efficient and productive companies still grow their own talent.

If you don't know where to start, you need to learn. Problems like Dow's keep coming back if steps are not taken to eliminate their origins. Retaining good people is institutional, and recruiting the best is easier if the best are seeking you out.

Jones is a management consultant and president of Houston-based SaleScope Inc.