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Regina Koh

Inspiring disruptive innovation: 3M’s story

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Regina Koh, head of human resources for 3M Singapore, reveals the immense value of encouraging staff to form unconventional and disruptive perspectives by expanding on the firm’s innovative talent management programmes.

It is said that change is the only thing that is constant.

Operating in a global business environment that is increasingly volatile and competitive is not easy for a company like 3M, whose core products and technologies are based on science and are subject to a period of discovery, development and regulatory approval.

Yet, the pressure and need to keep moving and innovating is ever present. So how should we effectively balance the two?

I feel that a science-based company’s success relies on its ability to identify, develop and leverage on its employees’ competencies. Having people who can “think out of the box” becomes especially important in an environment where the frequency of disruptive technologies is increasing.

When it comes to the crunch, would we rather disrupt ourselves than be disrupted by others?

Staying ahead, with people

3M’s talent management programmes help the company stay ahead of disruptive innovations by promoting a mutual understanding between departments and minimising silo-thinking.

3M’s talent management programmes help the company stay ahead of disruptive innovations by promoting a mutual understanding between departments and minimising silo-thinking. This in turn strengthens the already collaborative company culture within its global pool of 90,000 employees.

Through this, 3M can successfully energise and integrate across functions and businesses, while nurturing staff who may grow into future 3M leaders.

3M Singapore, with its 1,700 staff, is not just a country office. It houses two manufacturing plants, R&D operations, and includes regional operations in supply chain, business, etc. This means there are many areas where talented employees could make a real difference to the business, locally and regionally.

Our employee development strategies are designed to create value for customers and shareholders today, all the while driving business transformation in accordance to our five-year company strategic plan.

While employees are, at the end of the day, in charge of their own careers, companies can adopt policies to expose employees to different functions of the business and keep their portfolios varied.

A fresh perspective leads to fresh ideas and that is one of the reasons why 3M has managed to create more than 55,000 innovative products.

A fresh perspective leads to fresh ideas and that is one of the reasons why 3M has managed to create more than 55,000 innovative products.

At 3M, employees are among the company’s greatest assets. From HR’s perspective, the goal is to maintain a diverse talent pool, hence, maintaining the innovative lifeblood of 3M. Broadly, these are our globalised leaders initiative and the 3M leadership way.

Globalised leaders initiative (2x2x2)

Referred within the company as “globalised leaders 2x2x2”, the globalised leaders initiative allows employees to gain exposure in different functions, businesses and geographies, and enables them to acquire diverse skill sets and experiences.

The “2” means the possibility for employees to gain experience in two businesses, two functions and two geographies. 3M has five business groups: consumer, electronics and energy, healthcare, industrial and safety and graphics.

As for functions and geographies, 3M is like any typical MNC. Thus with the globalised leaders initiative, 3Mers have a playing field of many jobs open to them.

Likewise, they will also be more likely to combine different 3M solutions across businesses and/or functions to create more diversified and innovative solutions for the company’s customers.

Tapping on their previous experiences, employees in the globalised leaders initiative will cast a fresh eye at customer challenges from a different perspective.

Likewise, they will also be more likely to combine different 3M solutions across businesses and/or functions to create more diversified and innovative solutions for the company’s customers.

Since its implementation in 2012, nearly 100 employees at 3M Singapore have undertaken interesting career choices and switches. Financial consultants became marketers, R&D staff converted to marketing managers, and some even switched career fields twice – from marketers to business managers to HR business partners.

From the perspective of the employees, it keeps their working life fresh and appropriately challenging.

For the company, it has enabled a rethink of human resourcing – matching new applicant skill sets with the needs of the different business divisions.

It also comes with the additional business benefit of a shorter onboarding time, faster assimilation of 3M’s expected behaviours such as collaboration – a key success ingredient of the science-based company – as well as retention of talent.

Since its implementation in 2012, nearly 100 employees at 3M Singapore have undertaken interesting career choices and switches.

The 3M leadership way

The newly launched 3M “leadership way” heralds a new approach in the way we develop talent. For the first time, 3M HR has created a unified approach to identify and develop leadership talent across our five business groups, functions and areas.

The approach is focused on high-potential employees at all levels. The aim is to accelerate development of these individuals to ensure their readiness for future leadership roles and assignments.

Our ultimate goal is to cultivate a large, diverse and international pool of top talent within 3M, and create the playing field to unleash their full potential – adding value to the company, key customers and the world we live in.

The high potentials that we identify exist at every level, not just managerial. The core training content includes business and financial acumen, coaching others, diversity and inclusion, code of conduct, and the desired leadership behaviours of 3M.

In addition to the core curriculum, the HR department also works with relevant supervisors to craft customised training elements that focus on the specific needs of high potentials at each level to accelerate their development.

Once brought into the 3M leadership way training programme, a participant can expect to embark on a six to nine month-long personalised training journey.

Conducted by a mix of internal and external trainers, the 3M leadership way adopts a blended learning approach through a series of events. These include self-discovery, face-to-face experiential learning as well as virtual learning.

Conclusion

Over time through our consistent talent development effort, 3M has been recognised as a leading employer and people developer.

But what gives me the most satisfaction is when I hear about a fellow 3Mer who successfully innovates or facilitates the creation of a new solution for our customers – because HR has then directly benefited 3M’s business and beyond.

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