Tearing Down Workforce Walls

May 12, 2006
For Weyerhaeuser’s new wood products division, iLevel, to compete effectively, its employees must be persuaded to lay aside deeply rooted cultural differences.

   The new 15,000-employee Weyerhaeuser division, which was announced in April, benefits from a series of recent acquisitions that have boosted the breadth and scale of the company’s products. But a few of the cultures, most notably those of Trus Joist and Wil­lamette Industries, have proved more dif­ficult to fold into the company culture.

   "The business case is we want iLevel to provide one experience for our customers," says Kurt Liebich, vice president of marketing. "If you have different cultures operating, you can’t get to that point."

   Bridging these rifts has required more than company T-shirts. Instead, iLevel leaders have developed an arsenal of educational tools, including an interactive computer game, to convey the payoffs of aligning work styles.

   One of the first stops: to develop a new iLevel glossary of terms. Each organization had its own way to describe employees, says Allan Bradshaw, human resources director for the wood products division. Trus Joist referred to them as associates, Willamette preferred employees, and Weyerhaeuser used both terms.

A few of the cultures have proved more difficult to fold into the company culture. "The business case is we
want iLevel to provide one experience for our customers. If you have
different cultures operating,
you can't get to that point."
--Kurt Liebich,
vice president, marketing

   The new iLevel term: associate. Leaders describe the word as less hierarchical. "What you call something is symbolic of a past culture," Bradshaw says. "When you end it, it’s a symbol that you’ve ended the past culture."

   They’ve also created a 32-minute DVD, titled "All in One," so leaders can explain the consolidating home building industry and iLevel’s strategy directly to employees. Seattle-based design firm Hornall Anderson developed an interactive online game to further highlight the benefits of employee collaboration.

   Employees are randomly assigned to a team once they sign on to the game, encouraging them to work together to finish tasks and move their way through subsequent levels of the game. A drawing was held for all those who played, with grand prizes that included a NASCAR weekend. A total of 6,700 employees participated.

   Even so, old perceptions die hard, with leaders of the acquired companies still sometimes describing one another in strikingly different ways.

   Bradshaw views Trus Joist’s decision-making style as traditionally very top-down. "They made quick decisions," he says. "They relied on leaders to make decisions."

   But Liebich, who ran Trus Joist prior to assuming his current iLevel position, recalls a far more freewheeling culture. Trus Joist "was growing so fast that it didn’t have time to have a formal organizational structure," he says. "It was very startup, entrepreneurial. What happened was a very undisciplined organization."

   Asked about Bradshaw’s view, Liebich laughs: "That’s really illustrative of the (cultural) challenges we face."

Workforce Management, May 8, 2006, p. 34 -- Subscribe Now!