Article: Allow mistakes to foster innovation


Allow mistakes to foster innovation

Maclean Raphael shares the '3M Way' of driving innovation through talent management

In 3M, employees take ownership of their careers irrespective of what level and function they join


Employees are differentiated based on their performance and potential, and this pool is exposed to projects to help them grow


Worldwide, and more specifically in India, organizations have increasingly witnessed and are dealing with the war for talent over the past few years. Whilst there are numerous management and engineering institutes churning out thousands of students, not all of them are readily employable. Companies therefore, struggle to identify the handful who will become their future leaders. This further intensifies the war for fresh talent.

“The talent attraction is further aggravated in a diversified organization like 3M, as finding those niche and talented people becomes challenging,” adds Maclean Raphael. The answer to addressing talent management in such a scenario lies in developing multiple solutions. One of them is creating and promoting a company’s Employee Value Proposition (EVP) which becomes extremely critical in positioning the brand to attract the right talent, and also in building a strong value proposition to retain people in the system.

In such a scenario, for an organization like 3M, that is built on innovating new products continuously, efforts towards retaining its key talent becomes critical. Interestingly so, 3M has been able to create an environment for its employees, which is conducive to nurturing this talent. Today, more than 55 percent of the Level 1 & 2 leaders in the company have been groomed from within, through its strong succession planning process.

Mastering talent retention

There are several elements that go into retention of talent. A very robust learning & development program focuses on building leaders within the organization. In addition to several career options made available, the employees find the open & transparent, positive & stimulating work environment attractive to stay and grow with the organization. This contributes to 3M retaining the right talent amidst multiple external challenges.

Communication that is clear and transparent also plays a critical role. 3M has a well planned strategy to address employees. It starts with the right pitch made at the time of hiring and thereafter flows into the company orientation program and other forums, that aim to constantly communicate critical elements. The communication strategy helps to build the culture of the organization, besides keeping the employees abreast of what is happening internally and the company’s future plans. It also enables employees to constantly stay in touch and feed back into the system their ideas, suggestions as well as criticisms, of what they think should be changed.

The HOO or ‘Health of the Organization’ identifies potential talent for future leadership roles and helps both the organization and the individual from a long-term perspective, explains Maclean. It is this process which has enabled 3M to nurture internal talent and build leaders from within.

Another initiative that adds to talent retention, is the opportunity for diversified growth opportunities available to employees. The belief that talent must be optimized, takes career development to a new level where there is a continuous effort to encourage employees signing for different roles within the organization. The new ‘Career Support Framework’ currently under finalization will further give employees the freedom to move out of their comfort zones, break boundaries and chart careers in previously unexplored areas. In 3M, employees take ownership of their careers irrespective of what level and function they join. This works well in a diversified business like 3M that has 7 businesses and 30 plus divisions.

Building a culture of innovation

The 3M value system and the six defined leadership attributes channelize the leadership behavior and the way people think and act – this strengthens and promotes the DNA of the organization. These attributes are decided by the senior leadership at its head office at St.Paul, keeping in context the direction they wish to steer the organization in, based on future market challenges and growth strategies. The six attributes that have emerged include - think from the outside in; drive innovation and growth; develop, teach and engage others; make courageous decisions; lead with energy, passion and urgency; and live the 3M values. These together define the DNA of the organization, that continues to drive innovation through effective talent utilization and management. There is a strong business conduct policy which promotes and encourages employees to work in an ethical manner and which emphasizes a zero tolerance towards anyone violating this philosophy.

Talent being a critical driver of business, there is a close connection between the market need and talent preparedness. Employees are differentiated based on their performance and the pool of ‘hi-potentials’ are exposed to specific learning & development projects/assignments that help them grow. Further, there is also a separate pool of critical talent that is identified. The ‘retention heat mapping and target talent’ matrix helps map talent based on employees’ unique skill sets, individual value propositions, potential and performance. This process helps to spot hi-risk talent (i.e. critical talent) in the organization and pushes the leadership team to identify retention hooks which are basically customized actions to develop and retain this talent.

Customer orientation is an important aspect of the organization culture. Innovation stems from the needs of the customer and a customer focused culture helps ingrain the value of customer engagement among employees. E=MC2 (engagement= more customer connect) is one of the key training programs that has helped steer the organization to focus on the value that “customer is central to 3M’s innovation practice”.

Another unique aspect of the organization culture is tolerance towards mistakes. Allowing people the freedom to make mistakes and learn from their failures has been the driver for innovation. Some of 3M’s products like Scotch Guard and Post-it are outcomes of this empowering environment in the company.

Being an innovative company that is growing multifold over the past few years, there is a need to engage newcomers in such a way that the cultural ethos and sense of innovation of the organization is protected. Fast paced growth, particularly in the last few years, has also seen a large number of people from the current generation entering the workplace. 3M’s culture that fosters innovation, flexibility and employee independence, is an ideal setting in integrating the new generation with the existing talent pool. The culture of the organization has enabled a workplace that allows Gen Y to interact with leaders who do not micromanage but empower them, provide them space, allow them to ask questions and challenge the status quo.

As a strategy, the focus is not on selecting the ‘best’ talent, but in choosing the right talent. As Maclean affirms, “While we visit premier institutions like ISB, IIMs and IITs, the tag is not as important as getting the right talent, even if it is from a lesser known institute. The right people is what ultimately makes a difference to the organization.”

Maclean Raphael is the Vice President of HR at 3M India


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Topics: C-Suite, Learning & Development, Strategic HR, #Innovation

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