3M describes its propensity for success not as serendipity, but rather as the product of a constant and dedicated culture-building phenomenon formulated by its foundered and valued by its membership (3M, 2010). “People who know [3M] best point to four key ingredients that foster a culture of innovation and productive people, creating a challenging environment; designing an organization that doesn’t get in people’s way; and offering rewards that nourish both self-esteem and personal bank accounts” (3M, 2002, p. 32). This paper will briefly describe these cultural realities in an effort to flesh out exactly how they can be attributed to 3M’s remarkable success story.
“Innovation occurs for many reasons, including greed, ambition, conviction, happenstance, acts of nature, mistakes, and desperation. But one force above all seems to facilitate the process. The easier it is to communicate, the faster change happens” (Burke, 1995, p. viii). 3M seems to have known this since its beginning in 1902. “There are many reasons for 3M’s hundred years of progress: the unique ability to create new-to-the-world product categories, market leadership achieved by serving customers better than anyone else and a global network of unequalled international resources” (3M, 2002, p. i). James, your APA is very strong. Looks like we are going to get along just fine J
Inspiring Innovative Business Climates
Building a better product is not just about having the best buggy-whip on the market You might want to avoid informal language like this. APA writing is meant to be, well, bland and boring. A company must fill its walls with modern technology and the kind of people who know how to communicate about it and maximize it (3M, 2010; Burke, 1995; Christensen, 2005). Having the right product will not solve all a company’s problems and “it is not enough to corral a bunch of people and then expect then to function like a team” (Walton, 1991, p. 56). Management must understand how to improve the full spectrum of the company’s projects, people, and processes. Too often, industry leaders latch onto one fix or solution—manpower, technology, or market force—and plug one into fundamentally unchanged processes, not surprisingly, little change results (Christensen, 2005). 3M solved this dilemma before it became one by instituting an innovation-friendly culture from its very inception (3M, 2002; 3M, 2010; Brand, 1998). 3M hires the right people, inspires them to greatness, and supports (then rewards) their efforts in ways that forwardly manages the momentum toward success and innovation from within their organization at all levels (3M, 2002; 3M, 2010; Brand, 1998).
Hiring. I brought this up here. “For innovation to take place a company needs caring people who are willing to share for the greater good of a company and creative people who have the ability to turn ideas into practical products and services (Brand, 1998, p. 17). 3M pioneered this principle by aggressively hiring people similar to its “early architects of innovation Richard Carlton, Dick Drew, and Francis Okie” (3M, 2002, p. 13) who were “optimist[s], go-getter[s], calculated risk-taker[s], leader[s], unconventional, innately curios, [and] rule-breaker[s]” (p. 17). Each employee had to have their own style and aggressively seek new ideas and ways to nurture growth inside and outside their area of expertise.
By targeting certain kinds of people, and specifically not other kinds, 3M filtered into its growing ranks a vast team of people with broad enough backgrounds, yet similar enough mindsets, to ensure that innovative thought and idea sharing would continue to be the mainstay of their daily vocation (3M, 2002; Brand, 1998). By 3M’s own admission the selection process has never been completely open-ended, people being recruited need the mettle to innovate outside their comfort level; there is “no room for a thin-skinned man in this business” (3M, 2002, p. 16). “Dick Drew took a bunch of misfits-people wouldn’t fly in formation-and he put together a lab that created technologies that account for 20 percent of 3M’s sales in 2000” (p. 26).
3M recruiters actively prospect for people “who are creative (those people who can live in contradiction and perceive opposites as true at the same time), have a strong work ethic, are self-motivated and resourceful, and are problem-solvers with broad interests” (Brand, 1998, p. 21). It takes a very specific and mature mindset to be willing to work toward the greater good of a company, share everything one is accomplishing as he or she is accomplishing it, and do it all without feeling threatened that others may take away the perceived glory derived from invention or innovation (3M, 2002; 3M, 2010).
It is one of 3M’s “time-tested truths” that “innovation flourishes in diverse, small groups of committed people” (3M, 2002, p. 27). The pioneer of their hiring model, Dick Drew, “liked people who were good with their hands, as well as their heads. He was leery of too many college degrees… [he] was concerned that too much education risked making people too rigid and reduced their ability to think outside the box” (p. 27). Dick wanted regular folks who would explore innovation for the sake of it, not the immediate payouts sought by some. “Innovation cannot be farmed out to one or two individuals; it must permeate the entire fabric of an organization and every department within a company” (Brand, 1998, p. 18). By recruiting and hiring the right blend of people, 3M was able to take their insistence on sharing and openness of processes from the board room all the way to the lab and production line. The advantage of this paradigm cannot be understated.
Rewarding and Supporting Innovative Behavior. I brought this up here…In the 1990’s alone, 3M received 4,833 patents (3M, 2010). “Ideas are the nutrients of innovation” (Luecke, 2003, p. 48). This level of fertility for new idea conception and follow-through is not just about having the right people in place. They must be nudged along when stalled, encouraged after failures, and rewarded for both patients and hard work (3M, 2002; Brand, 1998; Christensen, 2005; Walton, 1991; Luecke, 2003). 3M’s staff is encouraged to take risks and push themselves outside their comfort zones to explore ideas (3M, 2002; 3M, 2010; Brand, 1998). “When people can be themselves, they use their gifts and talents to the fullest” (3M, 2002, p. 27). When their efforts are rewarded professionally and financially, the incentive to continue the habits of constant growth is reinforced by themselves, their peers, and their checkbooks (3M, 2002; Brand, 1998; Christensen, 2005; Luecke, 2003).
One striking policy 3M established is the “15% rule, which states that 3M people can spend 15% of their time working on innovative ideas of their own choosing” (Brand, 1998, p. 21). It is 3M’s steadfast policy to “give good people opportunities, support them, and watch them thrive” (3M, 2002, p. 11). The maturity of a policy giving people the freedom to work unguided through their own projects and problems on the clock, so to speak, and using company resources is as transformative a business model as it gets (Brand, 1998).
It is interesting to note that the 15% rule increases production (3M, 2002) and promotes a hands-off leadership style (3M 2002; 3M 2010; Brand, 1998) which is the opposite of the heavy-handed leadership approach espoused by Tichy and Devanna (1990) in their acclaimed book, The Transformational Leader. To Tichy and Devanna, leadership (the person) is best when he or she has not been in place for a long time. They write, a leader “who has been in place for some time has the more difficult task in assuming responsibility for revitalizing an organization” (p. 189). “3M promotes a close-knit, caring, family-like atmosphere. Given its considerable size [, $23.123 billion in sales in 2009 and 74,835 employees (3M, 2010),] this description may seem like a contradiction, but it is not. 3M tries to hire people for a career not just a job along a path of many corporate jobs. In fact, even in an era of ‘job-hopping,’ 3M’s turnover rate is among the lowest of America’s” (3M, 2002, p. 193).
Employees stay, grow, get promoted, travel, and are inspired by public recognition and stories of their peers’ successes. Those with new ideas of their own can apply for grants to finance temporary labor and additional materials to work on them. They can also expect to remain upwardly mobile without having to leave their passion (if applicable) of innovating and creating (3M, 2010; Brand, 1998). 3M operates on a “dual-ladder process [where employees] can be promoted to vice-president level without having to have any management responsibility” (Brand, 1998, p. 21). Loyalty to a firm is based on a sense that you have something invested in the company and the company has something invested in you (3M, 2002; Luecke, 2003; Muchinsky, 2006; Walton, 1991); the dual-ladder process enforces both principles.
One retired 3M Vice President of Research and Development, Les Krogh explained how company-wide patience, the 15% rule, grants and rewards for trying new things, and faith in their employees’ ability to manage their own time helps innovation in the long run: “Some things won’t work, so you fail once in a while, but that’s a lot better than the cost of a missed opportunity” (3M, 2002, p. 86). Management does not expect perfection, and while it does not encourage failure, it certainly does not disparage those who have unsuccessful projects and dreams (3M, 2002; 3M, 2010; Brand, 1998). “The leaders of 3M understood that no one should stand in the way of a creative person with passion because that person might invent the next product or manufacturing breakthrough” (3M, 2002, p. 19).
Double space throughout. There should not be 4 spaces here.
Giving Credit Where It Is Due
“It takes the right group of people to get involved and really push a new idea. The more these stories are told, the more they will give people confidence that they can do it too” (3M, 2002, p 86)--unnecessary banter J Be precise, be boring J Through meetings, international visits, tele- and videoconferences, the innovative products and practices are habitually (3M, 2002), almost obsessively (Brand, 1998), spread through the 3M world organization. “At 3M, where the three Ms are said to stand for meetings and more meetings” (p. 22), the information sharing has been a fantastic success.
Grants, awards, financial payouts, and global recognition are not confined to the technical side of the house; the “sales, marketing, finance, and production” (Brand, 1998, p. 22) employees all share in the opportunity to reap the rewards of patience and hard work (3M, 2002). When given, the word is spread throughout the organization of who is working of what ventures, and this raises the probability that others (from around the World) may have ideas and solutions to contribute (3M, 2002; Brand, 1998). Unnecessary: “[A] well decorated office or work area [with grant certificates and plaques from 3M] gives the [3M] employee a greater chance of having his or her ideas listened to, especially if, at first, those ideas sound crazy” (Brand, 1998, p. 22).
By aggressively hiring and retaining good people, by encouraging success and learning from failure (rather than disparage it), and by engendering a culture of positive public and financially satisfying rewards for invention and innovations, 3M has done amazing things in the last one hundred years (3M 2002; 3M 2010; Brand, 1998). The innovative management style and industry leadership of 3M has contributed to the entire cannon of knowledge about what it means to be innovative and successful; there is a lesson in the 3M story for companies of all sizes, product lines, and production goals.
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