“It was the first plastic film with much improved transparency than the standard product,” Peribere says. “It was much nicer but a different product, which also needed to be adapted to the high-speed machines.”
In addition to the product cost issue, Peribere faced the obstacle of getting buy-in from customers that would be required to use the new machines. He persevered in getting people to buy in to the new idea by educating them on its advantages, and within two to three years, Dow had grabbed a market share of close to 60 percent on the window film.
Peribere now uses that same perseverance and determination he used to reach new customers in 1977 to sell employees his vision for Dow AgroSciences LLC, a $3.4 billion producer of agricultural protection chemicals.
Peribere, president and CEO, has to ensure every employee is on board with the company’s vision, even as it has fluctuated in the midst of rapid changes within the agricultural science industry. By making sure everyone understands the company’s mission and how they contribute to it, Peribere has kept Dow AgroSciences growing.
And it all starts with communication.
“Communication leads to understanding, which leads to internalizing, which leads to motivation, which leads to engagement and leads to results,” Peribere says. “In a world which is changing quickly, the challenge for any leadership of a large company is to reach every single employee in such a way that he sees it the same way.”
Making sure everyone understands what direction the company is going means everyone can work together because everyone is seeing the same picture you do.
“(The employee) sees the challenges, he sees the impact of globalization the way you see it and he sees the opportunities the way you see them,” Peribere says. “If you have a perfect alignment, and if everyone sees the world and the company in the same way, then there is a much faster implementation of the strategic direction.”
The leader needs to have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen down the road and be able to convey that to his or her employees.
“You need to have a good feeling that your R&D team is aligned to what the market is going to look like 10 or 15 years from now,” Peribere says. “What you want is people who clearly understand the values, clearly understand the company strategy, clearly understand the discipline of strategy implementation and clearly understand the sense of urgency.”
Being able to see into the future comes down to taking a proactive approach to leadership and being aware of what is happening around your company.
“By looking and working and thinking about things two or three steps ahead, he will be able to prepare the organization to prevent falling in the potholes in the road,” Peribere says. “He will be able to orient the investments. He will be able to mitigate the issues and orient the company.”
For example, in 2006, Peribere’s company received the first regulatory approval for a plant-made vaccine from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Center for Veterinary Biologics.
Peribere says the company’s ability to compete and succeed can be traced back to a commitment to finding novel and differentiated solutions such as the vaccine and bringing them to the global marketplace. That commitment to purpose is constantly communicated in the company’s values.
“Let’s do the right thing, let’s be committed to the right thing, let’s embrace those values that we have and let’s continue to forge ahead,” Peribere says. “A company entrenched in its values, provided they are the right ones, will go (forward).”
Peribere says a multifaceted style of communication works best, making use of newsletters, small-group discussions and monthly reports. He also produces short videos that can be delivered to employees around the world and sets a goal each year of meeting face to face with at least 20 percent of the company’s 5,000 employees.
“I try as much as I can to be there, to ask questions and to stay connected to the day-to-day reality and to inform the employees as to what is the big picture so they can be motivated about today’s reality, which can be very good or very difficult,” Peribere says.
Make them feel needed
Whatever the mode of communication that is used, the goal remains the same.
“What every company has to find is the right way to reach employees so they internalize, get motivated to improve and act,” Peribere says. “Understanding is, ‘OK, I understand.’ Internalizing is, ‘I understand. I integrate the concept, and I apply and I act on it.’... Employee engagement is proportional to the feeling that the employee has about him being able to make a difference or not.
“The ideal company is the one that has the financial power of a large company and the one that has the entrepreneurial spirit and the engagement of employees of a start-up company. It is the one where every single employee arriving in the office in the morning or starting to work wherever he is feels that, without him, the whole thing stops.”
Generating that type of attitude doesn’t happen by empowering employees to be hard workers.
“You empower employees to do what you think they should do,” Peribere says. “You can’t control everything and you should-n’t try to control everything. Empowering is one step of the managerial process. You empower people when they can be working in an autonomous way.”
Peribere compares the leadership of employees to the education of students at school. The key is to find out as soon as possible who the employees are that need more guidance and who can handle and should be given more responsibility, and then use situational leadership to give each employee what he or she needs.
“Step one is command and control, and that person is going to go through ups and downs,” Peribere says. “That first month, he’s going to think he knows it all. The second month, he is going to think it is so complicated he will never know it all. These are the ups and downs of taking a new job. As the person gets more experience and understands things better, it can be a slow process or a quick process. ... If you are very gifted and you are learning very quickly, I’m going to be loosening the reins in stages.”
For employees to know whether they are progressing as individuals, they must have a series of goals and expectations that are clearly provided from their superior.
“The worst thing a supervisor can do to the people he supervises is escape an annual performance review by telling his employees, ‘Rose or Mary, or Bill or Bob, it’s all just fine,’” Peribere says. “As employees, we all want to know what we can do better. If the supervisor tries to escape, if the employee leaves the office not knowing more than he knew [before coming in the office], that is not good enough.
“The supervisor’s role is to guide and assess objectively the performance of the employee so the bar is raised and the employees who excel know it. They are entitled to have their expectations fulfilled. The employees who don’t perform should know what they have to correct.”
A smart leader will also steer away from blatantly demanding financial results and instead focus on the root causes and actions that will generate positive results for the company’s stat sheet.
“You cannot bang on the people and tell them, ‘I want so much earnings per share each quarter’ and not address what is going to provoke the earnings per share,” Peribere says. “You need to go to the root cause. We never are attentive enough to employee engagement, which makes the people drive and makes the people fight for your company.”
Another tricky task that every leader will eventually face is the delivery of bad news. While it is easy to keep everyone on track when things are going well, unity is often tough to maintain when times turn tough.
“It’s just the same concept as when your favorite football team wins,” Peribere says. “You say, ‘We won.’ When your favorite football team lost, what do you say? You say, ‘They lost.’ Every human being has a very natural tendency in associating himself with success and needing to disassociate himself from failure. That is the leader’s role, to work on that psychology and unite forces when times are difficult.”
If the leader maintains clear lines of communication with his or her employees, the team is more likely to stay united.
“The leader needs to be very clear, very honest and very credible on what his direction is and what he is requesting,” Peribere says. “He needs to be very credible in the consistency of his approach. Everyone needs to understand that a company is not a football club and is not a social club. We’re here to perform a job.
“But we’re also here to enjoy what we’re doing every day. There are rules, and there is a discipline. A company wants the same thing we want as individuals, which is to progress.”
A leader should also look for a diversity of talent among its employees that can stimulate valuable dialogue when key decisions are being made.
“You resist the immediate idea that you want people looking like you,” Peribere says. “People of different gender, race and, let me add, different nationalities are seeing the world differently. If you allow them to be put in the same room and brainstorm, they are going to see the world differently. ... You need to have cultural diversity and tolerance for differences to enable each of its components to bring their point, make their point, push their point and defend their point.”
Peribere keeps his calendar open so that people who have issues to address can find a time to do so.
“I have instructed my secretary that when somebody wants to see me, he or she needs to be able to get in my calendar,” Peribere says. “If that person feels it is important enough for him or her to share something with me, I will trust that it is.”
HOW TO REACH: Dow AgroSciences LLC, (317) 337-3000 or www.dowagro.com