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Program: Strategic Leadership Development Program (SLDP)

Timeframe:  1997 - 2001

Participants: 300

Industry: Chemicals

Program Partners: Organization Systems International (OSI), High Performance Systems (now isee Systems), University of Michigan (Prof. Dan Denison)

With fundamental changes in the silicone materials business threatening the company's historical leadership position, executives at Dow Corning Corporation (DCC) wanted to train senior managers how to think more strategically about meeting customer needs in new ways. The Strategic Leadership Development Program developed a new generation of senior leaders and catalyzed a strategic transformation at DCC that led to a new phase of growth and profitability.  

Working with Matt Mayberry at Dow Corning to develop and execute our Strategic Leadership Development Program was a most rewarding exercise. Not only was it an excellent and successful tool for developing managers for future career success, but the results of their participation in the program contributed immediate significant upgrades to our corporate strategic profile.
— Dick Hazelton, former CEO, The Dow Corning Corporation


  • Fundamental shifts taking place in the silicone materials business, including the emergence of e-commerce, threatened the company's traditional approach to product development and sales.
  • The Office of the CEO viewed strategy as a top-down process and they sought a leadership program that would train the top 300 managers to execute their strategy.
  • Learning objectives for the program included systems thinking, strategic thinking, customer focus, business acumen, acting transnationally, and driving for results.
  • Dow Corning wanted to create a leadership "practice field," combining role-playing elements with computer simulation, where managers could safely experiment with new leadership skills.
  • The program development team assembled by the client was a diverse group, including a systems thinking modeling firm, an organizational development firm, and an academic specializing in strategy and culture.

Dow Corning's Top-Down Strategic Process

Program Goal

Develop a simulation-based experiential leadership program to give global managers hands-on insight into implementing new strategies across their organization.

Our Approach

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  • In partnership with Organization Systems International (OSI), High Performance Systems (now isee systems), University of Michigan, and the DCC client team, WholeWorks developed an innovative five-day program with a full-immersion simulation as its centerpiece.
  • Prior to program development, OSI had developed a custom competency model for Dow Corning. This model provided an integrating framework for ongoing talent development and SLDP program evaluation.
  • We developed a custom simulation for the SLDP, based on Dow Corning's specific business model. The simulation combined two systems-based learning technologies for the first time: 1) a team-based behavior simulation (e.g. functional role-playing, in-basket memos, reports), and 2) a dynamic computer simulation. The combination helped participants develop both hard strategic skills and soft interpersonal skills as teams engaged in multiple rounds of decision-making. 
  • A fictional context was developed for the simulation to avoid skepticism by participants about the underlying model that can occur with an engineering culture. Paper Nation, a fictional pulp-and-paper business, was created to closely resemble the structure and behavior of Dow Corning's chemical business. (See sample course materials below.)
  • In addition to the simulation, the SLDP included other program elements that promoted personal and organizational development: dedicated facilitators that worked with each simulation team, "Blue Sky" (fictional) consultants, personal feedback from facilitators and teammates, large group debriefs, and executive presentations. All C-suite executives (including the office of the CEO) went through the program themselves as participants.

SLDP program Agenda

Annual decision-making cycle

page from Paper Nation Annual Report

Paper Nation Organization Chart

Sample memo from Paper Nation

Sample memo from Paper Nation

One Sector of dynamic systems Model

Sample page from output report

The Whole Works and OSI team did a tremendous job facilitating our organization through their Strategic Leadership Development Program. The simulation enabled us to challenge existing paradigms forming a platform for future strategic planning, while at the same time, broaden our individual leadership styles and approaches.
— Scott Fuson, former Corporate Vice President Marketing and Sales, The Dow Corning Corporation


  • The direct interaction between executives and managers during the SLDP, combined with their shared experience with the Paper Nation simulation, created a tension between what senior leaders thought was a solid corporate strategy and what more junior leaders had learned from the program about strategy.
  • The simulation catalyzed a strategic dialog between senior executives and SLDP participants, leading to a complete rethinking of the company's strategic framework. The organization came to see strategy not just in terms of engineering and plant capacity planning, but in terms of serving markets.
  • In addition to the original Paper Nation simulation, we created several modified versions that were used to test new strategies for Dow Corning. Executives used these simulations as Strategy Labs to play out new strategies in the virtual world before implementing them in the real organization.
  • The SLDP experience inspired a new generation of leaders to propose and advance several new growth initiatives. Among them was Xiameter, an online B2B platform that disrupted the silicone industry by enabling commodity products to be sold at significantly lower prices. 
  • Many of the junior leaders who implemented the new strategic initiatives following SLDP were promoted to senior leadership positions (including C-suite). 
  • The SLDP program was awarded a Best Practice Citation from ASTD (now Association for Talent Development).
  • The Paper Nation simulation has since been used to teach strategic leadership competencies to hundreds of participants at leading business schools (Portland State University, UCSD, and others) and global companies (including PETCO, Tolko, Paper Excellence, and others).
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