Formed a year ago through a merger and a spin off, Corteva Agriscience Canada is using change as an opportunity to redefine what it means to be a modern workplace.
In 2015, Dow Inc. and DuPont agreed to merge and then subsequently spin off into three independent companies. Corteva Agriscience, the agriculture division of DowDuPont for four years, became a stand-alone public company on June 1, 2019.
“With a merger of this size . . . we have a significant population from both legacy companies that have had their own way of doing things and their own unique cultures, so we’ve been spending the past year building our own Corteva culture and taking some positive initiatives and policies from both companies, harmonizing and making [them] our own,” says Kris Allen, the company’s communications leader for Canada.
In perfect harmony
Corteva’s employees were the driving force behind its program harmonization, says Vik Kail, the organization’s human resources leader.
“We had three heritage organizations because DuPont was a recent merger and it hadn’t amalgamated a lot of its things, so we had three different ways of doing things sometimes. And it’s really hard to feel like you’re part of one company. What we’re trying to build is for people to feel like they’re part of one big Corteva.”
One example of harmonization is the company’s new fitness policy. Previously, the policies were somewhat restrictive and had different payout amounts; for the new policy, the company set a $400 payout for all employees. “We decided to make it more flexible, instead of just old-school rigidity of it being a gym or a fitness facility,” says Kail.
In addition, Corteva launched a new vacation policy. All employees start at four weeks, go up to five weeks after 10 years and six weeks after 15 years. “I think that’s probably at or above market to what I’ve seen,” he says.
Harmonization offers the perfect opportunity to look at best practices and revisit benchmarking, says Sandra Ventin, associate vice-president of benefits at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. “Sometimes we have clients who feel that, over time, they no longer fit the same criteria of their benchmark as they used to. . . . It’s always good to revisit what’s new, what’s trending, what’s relevant and best benchmark practices.”
While most of Corteva’s changes were focused on enhancing and modernizing programs, Kail admits they came along with an element of grief. “The coaching to them was, ‘You’re going to want to concentrate on the one thing you lost, perhaps, over the five things you gained, and you’re really going to have to fight that.’ . . . [It’s] one of the things you deal with, no matter how positive some of your culture changes are; a little time helps get through that.”
Ventin agrees it can be difficult to communicate effectively at the best of times, so it’s important to keep the message short and concise. “Make it thoughtful and also be very realistic with people and make sure that you have their trust.”
Over the last year, Corteva has also introduced employee-led social committees. “In our Calgary head office, we brought together employees from a number of different functions and legacy organizations to start building our own social committee that would be focused on building our own culture through fun activities, engaging our leadership teams, getting to know people personally, but then also giving back to the community,” says Allen.
Some examples included workplace potlucks, desk drops to celebrate milestone days and an afternoon off to donate blood. “The intent is that each site would have their own committee to develop and build those relationships and rapport in a fun way in their local communities,” he notes. “It gives an opportunity for employees to lead the way, do something fun and engage the rest of the organization, but also have leadership participation.”
Speaking of leadership, Corteva also launched a modern leadership conference, hosting the inaugural event in early March, just as the coronavirus pandemic was arriving in Canada. The conference was the first turn of the dial to help the organization’s managers be a part of a workplace that’s a bit different from where they came from, says Kail.
“A modern workplace is something they really buy into and accept and modern leadership is at the heart of that. We started this by trying to give them business updates, continue with transparency, continue with this vision — and then we turned
it into a learning conference.”
Line of communications
In addition to developing a new culture, Corteva focused on the importance of consistent and transparent communications. It hosted an “exchange and engage” tour in the summer of 2019 across seven key Canadian locations, began sending out monthly newsletters and hosted weekly town halls when the coronavirus upended the standard workplace.
Allen says the intent of the tour was to bring the company’s leaders to employees across the country, sharing their vision for the new Corteva and hearing feedback from staff. “We felt this was the best time to get out in front of people, get pulse checked and have that opportunity for that two-way communication with leaders that employees may only see once a year, at that.”
The monthly newsletters share information and updates about key projects across the country, alongside other company updates. “As a global company, like most, we have an intranet, but it’s populated from the global site,” says Allen. “Obviously, employees care about what’s happening locally, so that was my intent, to really share the local information about the work that our employees in Canada are doing.”
And the weekly town hall meetings, born out of the necessity of the pandemic, have grown into a communications staple. “They have been so successful and well-received by employees that we’re going to start doing town halls on a monthly basis,” he notes.
When it comes to a merger, Ventin advises employers not to underestimate the amount of time it takes to do it right. “Also, be thoughtful because each legacy company has a unique DNA structure to them — they come from potentially different places, different leaderships and corporate cultures. The transition team needs to be very thoughtful and take the time to get those nuances and what’s important to certain companies before they make these decisions, because they are difficult ones to make. But done thoughtfully, they’re usually very successful.”
Ultimately, Kail uses an analogy to align Corteva’s employees with the business: as an agriculture company, its business is plant health, which requires a lot of elements to thrive. And it’s the same for employees. “If you give them trust and transparency, if you can provide autonomy in some areas of their work experience, if you can be a modern leader, have a positive work environment, show them some growth and give the modern tools, they’re going to be much more resilient and productive.”
Jennifer Paterson is the editor of Benefits Canada.