Leadership Development at 3M: New Process, New Techniques, New Growth

By Alldredge, Margaret E.; Johnson, Cindy et al. | Human Resource Planning, September 2003 | Go to article overview

Leadership Development at 3M: New Process, New Techniques, New Growth


Alldredge, Margaret E., Johnson, Cindy, Stoltzfus, Jack, Vicere, Albert A., Human Resource Planning


From the moment she first shook his hand in a receiving line after his arrival at 3M Margaret Alldredge, staff vice president, Leadership Development and Learning, knew Jim McNerney was passionate about developing leaders. McNerney was fresh from an enormously successful career at GE. He talked of implementing Six Sigma (a rigorous process designed to improve productivity, increase profits, and enhance customer service) and shared his view that Six Sigma was not only about process improvement but also a way to develop leaders rapidly. He also suggested that 3M might be ripe for the establishment of its own "Crotonville," GE's vaunted center for cultivating leadership talent. That first meeting set into motion the creation of a new, intense, and exciting approach to developing 3M's leaders.

One of Jim McNerney's first questions after arriving at 3M Company as its new CEO was, "What are we doing here to develop leaders?" The response from the 3M leadership development team convinced him the company could do more to develop high-potential talent. Almost immediately, he challenged the team to craft an intensive leadership development strategy that would rival that of his prior employer, GE. This article chronicles our team's progress to date, showing bow hard work, intense commitment, and creative thinking can lead to powerful results.

Setting the Stage

Within a month of Jim's arrival, we met with him to review our existing approach tn leadership development. In 3M's traditionally egalitarian culture, we had always focused on developing all of our people. The only special opportunities we offered to our high-potential leaders were a series of self-directed roundtables designed lot leaders at more senior levels across the company. Jim challenged us to focus more formally and openly on the identification and development of our highest potential leaders. Based on that challenge, and tying our work to Jim's evolving vision for 3M and to his newly defined expectations lot 3M leaders (see Exhibit 1), we set out to develop a new, accelerated strategy for developing our high-potential leadership talent.

We presented Jim with a first cut at our new leadership development strategy near the end of his second month in office. He liked what he saw in our initial proposal, but he also wanted to make a statement that reflected 3M's newfound commitment to leadership development. He proposed that we create a facility to house our leadership development efforts. We suggested modifying an existing R&D training center close to the executive offices. Jim liked both the facility and the five-minute proximity to 3M's executive offices, because he expected that he and his direct reports would do a great deal of teaching in the new center. Although we talked about the value of a "residential" facility for participants, business pressures suggested that a top-notch learning facility without residential accommodations was our best option. Nearby hotels were adequate to house participants traveling to the center from around the world.

With that, tile design goals for our Leadership Development Institute (LDI) were set. The plan was for the facility to be a top-notch learning center with all the modern amenities. It would be home to a number of accelerated leadership learning and development opportunities, including not only high-potential leadership development for 3M worldwide, but also for Six Sigma black belt and master black belt training and for leadership training for customers and distributors. Within three months we had gained full approval for the $3.2 million renovation project.

Leadership Attributes

While we were working on the new leadership development strategy and the LDI renovation proposal, McNerney and his direct reports took advantage of an independently organized offsite session to create a new set of leadership attributes for 3M (see Exhibit 2). These attributes are simple and clear, consistent with all of Jim's messages to the organization. …

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