The following is an excerpt from a recent article, How Owens Corning Trained Managers to Lead Innovation, written by Robert Paxton, vice president of human resources at Owens Corning, originally published the February 2014 issue of HR Magazine.
In October of last year, Owens Corning celebrated 75 years as a leader in the field of fiberglass technology. The company’s rich history in building insulation, roofing material and glass-fiber-reinforced composite materials began in the 1930s with the invention of fiberglass by the chemical engineer Russell Games Slayter.
Over the years, however, the company’s intense focus on technological leadership came to exceed its ability to commercialize new innovations—and, in 2010, Owens Corning Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Mike Thaman laid out a new vision: to become a "global company where market-leading businesses are built." Thaman turned to the HR leadership to help transform the manufacturer from a company focused inwardly on its franchise businesses to one that was customer-centered.
As we discussed this goal with the CEO and Executive Committee, we realized that the root issue was that our general managers didn’t have the strategic marketing skills required to understand and respond to our customers’ needs. Owens Corning’s 35 general managers around the world were accountable for running different businesses and product lines. They ranged from vice presidents running our largest businesses to directors in charge of smaller businesses. Regardless of their level, all were accountable for driving profitable growth in their business.
However, the company’s approach to driving growth was often misplaced. Rather than innovating to meet a market need, the company would create innovative technologies and then try to find customers who might be interested in the new product features. This approach meant that Owens Corning rarely realized the full financial benefit for the value it provided customers, because our sales and marketing organizations lacked the ability to sell our products at higher prices, even though the products performed better or had better features. We lacked the ability to effectively communicate to our customers the superior value our products provided. Moreover, general managers lacked a common language to discuss, and the processes to develop, effective business strategies and plans.
To address these challenges, the HR leadership committed to developing the capabilities of our general managers and other key leaders.