Like a tether that binds current and past employees, The Dow Chemical Co. is hoping its soon-to-launch in-house social networking plan will build real relationships among Dow alumni, women, retirees, and current employees.
That’s the concept behind the program known internally as Dow Connect, set to go live in December 2007.
As the battle for talent became more competitive, Dow says it recognized the importance of maintaining relationships with all employees, so it began reviewing different options. Specifically, the company had a strong desire to stay in contact with those who had left and try to draw them back to Dow.
The Dow Connect social networks — think MySpace or LinkedIn layouts, modified through company-centric material — will be tailored for all employees. Current and former employees can create a “profile” and skim through Dow-focused information to stay connected. For example, retired employees may be looking to return for short-term projects or simply reconnect with former colleagues.
The company is working with SelectMinds, which has already built corporate social networks for JP Morgan Chase, Ernst & Young, and Lockheed Martin, among other companies.
“SelectMinds looked like a perfect platform. We signed a contract at the end of June, and we will launch in the beginning of December,” says Kevin Small, leader of Dow’s Global Resource Management Center within Dow human resources.
Small says two teams are helping to oversee this project: Workforce Planning and Diversity/Inclusion. He says the initial intent was to augment hiring activities by using an alumni network, while the diversity group was looking at ways for employees to stay connected after a maternity leave or other leave of absence.
“One key is to be able to use the directory of participants to locate individuals in the past who are current or former employees. We’re hoping our 19,000-strong U.S. arm will become a recruiting tool for us. Within the company environment, it’s more controlled than a MySpace, and the topics are focused on the company,” he says.
Maternity Leave Made Easier
One aim of this program is to help women who leave the company for a maternity leave.
“We could certainly make the process easier for them. While we encourage folks to disconnect from Dow and not continually work — as any company should when an employee goes out on leave — Dow Connect creates a networking environment,” he says.
Some women on leave might shy away from checking in on email or calling their team. But this method, the company hopes, will allow those on leave to reach out to colleagues, mentors, and others who have been in their situation.
“It’s a little less formal than using email, for example. We will also have articles and content that is specific about going out on leave, reentering the workforce, or how to balance child-rearing and work,” says Small.
Managing All Generations
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In addition to the Dow Connect program, Small says Dow is looking into ways to handle four generations in the workforce. The company has developed various workshops and training sessions so leaders can be more sensitive to all employees’ desires.
The “Flexibility in the Workplace” workshop is broken into two separate meetings to helps leader understand different dynamics of flexibility, and for employees to know what arrangements are possible at Dow.
“That’s relevant to multi-generations because we’re trying to put things in place that would appeal to different generations. Telecommuting, or every other Friday off, or half-days every Friday for the summer, or job-sharing; we have to hit on as many levers as you can, because what’s viewed as flexibility for a 29-year-old wouldn’t be the same for a 59-year-old,” he says.
In the “Workforce Planning” workshops, leaders are advised that, “good, key candidates are only on the market for about 48 hours and then they’ve moved on. If you don’t respond back to them, you’ve more than likely lost them,” adds Small.
“Gen Y moves faster, and it moves faster because the world moves faster, and technology moves faster, and they were raised on IMing. They want quicker gratification and recognition,” he says.
Some employees at Dow use IM to communicate with colleagues, and Small jokes that “it would be a fascinating study on what the average age of the user is. It probably plateaus at 45 for heavy use and trails down, and other folks in other generations may use different methods.”
Adding Up the Business Value
As with other corporate programs, Small says companies need to be clear on their mission, vision, and objectives.
When you look at recruiting costs, time to productivity, and the cost of using a search firm, the time and cost of implementing a social networking group such as Dow Connect isn’t a bad idea for mid- to large-size companies.
“You’ve reduced costs, and you’re bringing someone in who knows the organization. If you do a lot of recruiting and have a pocket of individuals who have left but you hope will return, this type of program is certainly worth exploring,” he adds.