When Dallas-based Halliburton acquired rival energy-equipment and oil-field services company Dresser Industries in 1998, not all of Dresser's employees felt welcome at the corporate dinner table. Dresser itself had grown to international stature through mergers and acquisitions, often squeezing revenue from non-core businesses to subsidize other parts of the company, explains corporate communications director Stewart Yee.
A group of Dresser execs and two private investment firms bought back four far-flung, manufacturing-focused units a year ago: Dresser Wayne, a retail oil services company specializing in pay-at-the-pump technology; Waukesha Engine, a manufacturer of large industrial turbines; Dresser Flow Controls, which makes valves and pressure-control devices for natural gas pipelines; and Dresser Measurement, which makes pressure regulators.
Leaders of the new company found themselves with a diverse, dispersed, and demoralized workforce - its 9,000 employees in 37 countries focused inwardly, more loyal to their individual brands than to the parent company.
"Not all employees even knew they had been spun off from Halliburton," says Kerry Tate, whose TateAustin PR firm was hired to help distill complex messages and foster a new corporate culture.
The task was not to revive pre-Halliburton traditions, but to integrate some of those values into a new, growth-oriented culture. Goals included unifying the multinational workforce, opening communication channels with management, and clarifying long-term financial goals.
TateAustin personnel conducted focus groups with employee opinion leaders in the US and Europe, not only as a means of research, but to introduce preliminary ideas that would later be more clearly defined. They found that employees didn't understand what it meant to be a part of the new Dresser, feared being bought out by yet another conglomerate, and wanted to hear from management about the company's financial performance.
Ultimately, TateAustin developed four "Destiny Principles.
"Lead, Don't Follow
addressed market positioning goals; "Win Together
encouraged employee teamwork and community involvement, and outlined a new profit-sharing program; "Take Care of Business
stressed effectiveness, and explained profitability measurements; and "Turn Customers into Fans" centered on customer service.
TateAustin developed posters and brochures explaining the four core principles. The colorful booklets featured ethnically ambiguous artwork, and were printed in seven languages. An inspirational corporate video was also produced. Using these materials, supervisors introduced the "Dresser Destiny
campaign at employee group meetings.
Dresser unveiled a profit-sharing program based on EBITA performance (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization). Tate-Austin created talking points, PowerPoint presentations, handouts, and feedback forms for managers to use in explaining EBITA and profit sharing at quarterly meetings. In addition, an annual report to employees was prepared to objectively communicate areas of success and needed improvement.
"Cultural change can take years to fully transform an organization,
Yee notes. "This is something we're going to have to try to live for a long time."
Early review of the feedback forms has been positive. While employees seem to appreciate the new open-book financial policy, understanding of - and attitudes toward - the profit-sharing program vary depending on whether specific divisions had similar programs in the past, and whether they met financial goals last year, surmises David Gustin, HR VP for Dresser Measurement in Connecticut. Employees are beginning to use Dresser Destiny terminology, Yee says, while Gustin notes particular understanding of customer-service messages: "They're commenting that the emphasis on the customers is really important."
While Dresser Destiny will be a long-term and ongoing focus for the company, TateAustin has completed its initial commitment to develop the program and give managers the tools to implement it. "The more successful we are, the less they need us,
A quantitative employee survey is planned for this summer.