Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Best HR Practices: The 3M Story

Recent times have been a bonanza of sorts as both NIPM and NHRD, professional bodies of HR, in their monthly evening meetings have been arranging talks on “best practices”. The pleasure for me has been twofold in the sense, I not only get to attend and become aware of the best practices but also have the pleasure of writing about them in my blog for the benefit of readers. After the “best practice” stories from Ingersoll and GE, I was eagerly looking forward to listen to the 3M story on 14th July (the first meeting organized by the new team of NIPM under the chairmanship of Mr T. Ashoka) at the Chancery Pavilion, Bangalore. The D day finally arrived and the speaker was Mr Maclean.S. Raphael, Executive Director, Human Resources, 3M India and Srilanka.

The speaker started his talk giving an outline about 3M as a global company. While many of us know about the ‘Post it’ sticky notes, it was a revelation that 3M has over 55,000 products and still counting. It has five businesses that include industrial consumables, health care, safety & graphics, electronics & energy and operates from over 70 countries and employs more than 88,000 employees.

It was clear right from the initial stage of the presentation that 3M attaches a lot of importance to R&D. It invests 5.5% of its sales every year for R&D and has 46 technology platforms at present. The innovation focus includes product, technology, culture, market spaces and HR innovation. At the outset Maclean clarified that the best practices in his company is not so much about the “What” but more on the “How”. In other words, the focus is more on the manner it is executed than the idea itself which many may feel that they already have in some form in their companies. He said that if a more than a century old, company has managed to remain current and robust, it is on account of the principles laid down by one of the earliest leaders Mr William. McKnight who was Chairman of the company from 1949 to 1966 and continued as honorary chairman of the board until 1972. His cardinal yet simple principles for day to day working included the following:

  • · Mistakes will be made; don’t condemn bona fide mistakes
  •     Do not micro manage
  •     Delegate

3M has been operating in India since 27 years with the corporate office in UB city, Bangalore, five manufacturing units and R&D centres at Electronic city, Bangalore and in Gurgaon. There are car care centres all over the country. The ‘Best HR practices” touch all aspects of an employee's life viz. Joining, communication, engagement/ retention, ER/IR, development, recognition and career.
The speaker touched upon and shared information on the following practices during the course of his talk
1) Campus Connect Program- INF Challenge (Young Innovators Challenge award) 2016

This program was introduced in India in collaboration with CII on the lines of 3 M’s global Young Scientist Challenge aimed at enhancing scientific exploration, innovation and communication across the country. Students of top-notch educational institutions such as XLRI, IIM, IIFT, TAPMI, SP Jain, NMIMS and BIM, Trichy participated. The students interested in the challenge are required to prepare 3 minute videos showcasing their ideas and initiative. Maclean informed that over 3000 students participated in the challenge which in itself played a big role in projecting the image of the company as a preferred employer. The contestants were initially shortlisted to 16 for the India challenge and 2 were selected for the international challenge held in St.Paul Minnesota. One of them from XLRI was eventually selected as the Winner in St.Paul !  

The speaker said that the stupendous success of the program has given them the confidence to leverage this initiative in future for a stronger campus connect and hiring program.

2)    Communication

Many companies have communication exercises; what sets 3M apart, is the way it is implemented. To begin with 3M also has Open House forums through the year which are attended by all employees. This was however found to be losing its effectiveness. Hence a project team was formed to work on the subject. The team spoke to a large cross section of employees and came up with a proposal incorporating various suggestions. The proposal was presented to the leadership team who gave the nod although they were initially apprehensive about increasing the duration of the exercise from 45 minutes to one and half hours.
While in the previous format, hardly one or two persons spoke after the formal presentation, the new initiative was structured in a manner that encouraged informality, which increased participation tremendously and became a very interactive and engaging session, which employees looked forward to.

3)    “Between Us” box 
This box is similar to the traditional ‘Suggestion box’. However, what makes the difference is that the company shares the questions and responds back with their clarifications, actions etc in an extremely transparent manner which has captured the attention of the employees.

4) Connecting with Stories

Stories are powerful; they have better recalls and help build values, competencies and attitude. Stories connected with the company, both internal and external are shared with the employees. In this regard, Maclean related an inspiring story involving a 3M’s Relationship Manager for the Bajaj account.

One day, early in the morning a frantic call was received from the factory of the customer informing that they had received two batches of the right decals, instead of a left and right decal batch. Due to this despatch error from 3M ‘s Plant in Electronic City, Bangalore, the production of 1600 bikes would come to a standstill. This Key A/c Manager used his presence of mind and resourceful nature to come with a plan wherein through  some engineering creativity he culled out the left decal from a right decal. This helped 3M tide over and avert a major crisis. The outcome of this initiative was that the Customer was so delighted with the Play to win response from 3M’s Key A/c Manager, that their share on the Bajaj account eventually increased from around 60% to 100%. Such stories told and retold can inspire many more employees to be enthused and take initiative.

5)   HRUDAY- Connect with internal customers of HR
The speaker then spoke of an  initiative- HRUDAY; a half day connect which  I found very interesting and innovative. Under this activity, employees working in other departments are exposed to the HR processes through fun and games. There is an informal atmosphere with food stalls and other fun activities. At the end of the program, the participants are able to explain all HR processes easily and effortlessly.

6)   HR Outreach
There is a general grouse amongst out station employees that the Corporate office employees get a larger share of the various training and mind space of the HR team.  ‘HR outreach’ came as a response to such feedback under which once in a quarter, HR representatives visit various locations and interact with the employees there, providing them an opportunity to exchange ideas and vent their grievances if any.

7)   HR Business Acceleration

The HR role in general in India has metamorphosed from Welfare Officer a few decades ago to HR Business Partner today. The aspirations of those in the field also soared from becoming a business partner to contributing as member of the board of directors.

At 3M, the focus has been on accelerating the role of HR as a business partner. Towards this objective, best HR practices are not only developed but the same is showcased as an achievement to garner business. This also involves handholding other companies to imbibe and assimilate the ‘best HR practices’. Recently, HR participated in the 3M Tech Day organized by Anand group and highlighted the strength of 3M through  its people policies and practices to the Business leaders of the Anand group. Maclean revealed that as part of the HR Business Acceleration process, he also participates in the account receivables process from delinquent Customers, by using his negotiation skills effectively.  

8High Potential Employees Development Initiative – “XChange”

        A very interesting and novel idea for developing HiPo employees was shared by the speaker wherein a collaborative initiative, that included apart from 3M, other prominent corporates like SAP, Bosch, CafĂ© Coffee Day, Titan, Mind Tree, Biocon and Amazon. They have formed a training consortium and have pooled in domain experts from the participating companies, along with Industry and Academic experts as faculty. Participants include HiPos with 10-15 years of experience across Business & functions.
Five competencies are identified and each Company owns/ co owns a competency for delivery with two days of learning every month for a 4 to 5 month period. Two batches have completed their training and the Participants unanimously have stated that “this is the best learning experience” that they have ever had in their careers.

9)  Leadership Edge- A mentoring & Coaching Initiative

Maclean shared the background and the trigger for developing this program. Basically, this was an initiative to help the Company give back to high performing / succession candidate employees and support them in their careers through  an intense, focused, external Coaching program. 

The feedback received from the coaches after the successful completion of the program was very interesting and revealing: -

(i)  Most organizations are not proactive; in fact, they come to us at the last minute
(ii) The participants are simply referred to us. We do not get the opportunity to interact with the HR  Head and Senior management team before the program, as was done in the 3M program
(iii) Usually, the participants come in to the program with a negative mindset since they feel they have been sent to the program as they are 'not good enough'.
(iv) The fact that 3M had already identified the areas of improvement, helped the process of coaching and enhanced its effectiveness.
( You may like to read my experience of total delight and excitement when such support is given to a trainer while rolling out training programs effectively- )

10) Retention of Critical Employees

The speaker explained that 'Heat map action' is utilized for identifying the critical employees. All the employees are put through the filter. ( A heat map is a two dimensional representation of data in which values are represented by colours. A simple heat map provides an immediate visual summary of information. More elaborate heat maps allow the viewer to understand complex data sets). Once the critical employees are identified, various programs are organized for them.

11)  ER & IR 

3M India Ltd has five manufacturing units in the country with the corporate office in UB city, Bangalore. The five units include the two units located at Pondy and Pimpri that were acquired by the company, meaning there are differences in culture, structures and compensation between the units.

To address the issues pertaining to employee relations, the ER climate survey is taken as an important tool. All the employee life cycle touch points right from 'hiring' (tabs drilled down to micro detail) are identified. They are fleshed to ensure total coverage in that area. The survey by an international 3M Assessor helped identify the gaps and action plan is drawn up and implemented. The needle in terms of efficacy of People practices and programs  has moved considerably in the last six years. 

Based on the ER assessment survey, all grievances are mapped, tracked and resolved. The plant engagement calendar monitors the activities that need to happen month on month. Meetings are also organized systematically that include daily tier meeting, supervisor-crew and other meetings. The employee development programs include Kaizan projects, open house, 5 S, rewards & recognition programs.

To a question during the question time, the speaker explained the multi nodal CSR activities undertaken by the company. This was in the areas of ‘Recognising and encouraging Young Innovators”, Women Skill enhancement”, Science education for underprivileged children” and “Leadership development through CSR projects for Diversity employees 

 At the beginning of his talk, Maclean had modestly declared that there may not be a lot of 'newness' in the "Best Practices" of his company and that the distinguishing factor was the seriousness and the manner of its implementation. Yet, as I left the venue I felt happy and satisfied that I came to know of quite a few innovative initiatives, that other companies would do well to imbibe and emulate for success and harmony in an increasingly competitive business environment.


  1. Very interesting to read about 3M's unique HR initiatives that have enabled the company to manage its multiple verticals successfully and effectively. Truly, an organization that invests sincerely, sensibly and humanely in its human resources, invariably ends up as the most profitable and fruitful venture. Salutes to 3M for working with this awareness! And my salutes to you Rajeev, for your ability to document so well the proceedings of the programs that you attend and to share the knowledge and insights gained by you with us all. Thank you ever so much!

  2. Thank you Padmaja! Always look forward to your motivating feedback.