Aligning the it human Resource with Business Vision: The Leadership Initiative at 3M



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Positional Leadership Initiative Implementation and Impact


Whereas the Personal Leadership Curriculum is designed for IT professionals, the Positional Leadership Initiative is designed for those in IT management positions. A schematic of the Positional Leadership Model is shown in Exhibit 3. Among the essential elements of leadership is a commitment to deliver value to the marketplace of IT’s clients and 3M’s customers. In addition, critical leadership skills include helping one’s work group to develop a shared vision for delivering that value and aligning the needs and interests of the IT professionals in the work group to pursue the vision.



The Leadership Function is in the center of the diamond, not the leader. Everyone has responsibility for leadership. Some people spend more time on it. The Positional Leadership Initiative is designed for those who are spending more time on it, specifically all IT managers and supervisors, i.e., those 3M refers to as positional leaders.
The core idea in the Positional Leadership Model is to help IT people align (Labovitz and Rosansky, 1997). Leadership competencies that help people achieve this alignment include helping IT people make the connections between themselves and their customer, strategy, their work group (i.e., other performers), and process. These competencies involve helping develop commitment, vision, alignment within the work group, and architecture. A brief explanation of these four concepts follows.
Commitment: The individual is committed to the people in the marketplace, committed to the success of his or her customer. That’s what connects the leader/individual to the market. It’s looking out ahead and saying, “You know, my success depends on your success. I’m committed to your success to enable mine.”
Vision: What matters more to the market is their needs. And their needs drive our strategy. It’s the vision that ought to drive the strategy. The strategy is just plans to get somewhere. But the where is created by the vision.
Alignment: If the people in the work group “understand” and “don’t need to be told,” they’re all “on the same page.” People just know what to do because … it’s like their minds were on the same wave length and all in phase with one another. Like they were aligned. What connects the leader to the work group is alignment. If the work group is aligned, they can actually deliver on that commitment to the customers in the marketplace. And that refined or reinforced commitment can maybe modify the vision over time.
Architecture: It’s almost easier to see in the negative. Think of situations where the environment just got in the way: narrow job descriptions, turf, politics, silos, not-invented-here … the usual list of bureaucratic ailments. So what would the opposite of that be? It’s as though instead of just letting the environment or process evolve on its own, without paying any attention to it, someone has to erase all those bad things and make room for the good things. It’s not design, because that’s kind of like control, and the manager is more interested in control than the leader is. Control comes afterward. It’s what comes before control, before design – it’s the grand scheme, the big picture without the design details filled in. The leader works with the process like an architect. It’s a matter of knowing what you ultimately want it to look like, how it will work, how it can serve the larger purpose, but not necessarily having to be a brick layer. So the leader’s connection to the process of the IT performers is architecture.

This initiative began in the fall of 1996. To date, thirty individuals in four groups have completed the journey. It is called a journey because it incorporates the notion of equifinality: it begins with a destination in mind but allows participants to determine different stops along the way. Excerpts from an invitation to an individual selected to participate by the IT Operating Committee explain how the initiative is implemented:

The group will include seven people from a cross-section of IT and a representative from the Operating Committee for a total of eight. We will meet weekly for four hours on Thursday mornings in the Education & Performance Services’ Learning Lab. We will have one or two information meetings, a preliminary interview, and likely some pre-work before we begin. The next journey will officially begin on July 9. It will last for 12 weeks.
The learning experience is designed to challenge your thinking about leadership, and specifically leadership in IT. It's a strategic learning experience and not intended to solve specific problems. If you decide to participate, we will expect you to attend every possible session, come prepared, and participate. We use facilitated discussion as a basis for much of the learning technique, so what you give is as important as what you receive. You will have reading or other assignments to prepare for most sessions; we will try to limit preparation time to an hour or two.
If you decide to participate we are confident that you will have the opportunity to:


  1. analyze your leadership paradigms in a non-threatening environment

  2. identify areas where you can improve your own performance as well as the performance of your work group

  3. build new relationships and a network of support with other members of IT

  4. become a member of a growing group of positional leaders committed to making IT the best led division in 3M

Building understanding and acceptance of the transitions in manager-worker relationships via the Positional Leadership Initiative is the responsibility of Mike Marois and three others who collaborate on this initiative. Mike probably spends 50% of his time on this, while the others spend 20-40% of their time on it. While Mike has overall organizational responsibility, one person does systems and scenario planning while another focuses on personal behaviors, including mindfulness and knowing self and others, e.g., Myers-Briggs is used (Myers, 1987). The third focuses on communication, team building skills, helping people grow, and servant leadership. They rely on academic and business leaders for their ideas. (“Some existing theories of leadership are valuable, but there is a need for new ideas as well. We think we are on the leading edge with some of our work.”) They want to build servant leaders. They offer facilitation and the building of a network of colleagues who can learn from and support each other.


The strategy for implementation is characterized as guerilla warfare: one convert at a time, one group, one leader at a time. It is not a quick fix, but it takes time and can sometimes get disturbingly intimate. Rather than mass sheepdipping, the approach now is to focus on select people in select groups where there is pain or where there is opportunity.
A participant in the latest Positional Leadership Initiative gives this assessment:

First of all, thanks for inviting me to be a part of this. I know I wasn't on the radar screen otherwise, not being a part of CORP IT. So I appreciate it. I found the overall experience to be excellent. My hat is off to you and the team for being willing to not only SHARE, but to take some RISK and TRY some things, even if some of us might think it goofy. Some of my comments:



  1. Keep the movie BABE in the class! Even though I'd seen it, I wasn't looking at it as a learning experience at the time. I think it REALLY helped you guys make some good points.

  2. I REALLY LIKE the work your group is doing with the DIAMOND MODEL [Exhibit 3]... and would love to see even MORE DETAIL and thoughts fleshed out in this area. Same with the transitional model [Exhibit 1].

  3. I liked how flexible you all were ... especially when it came to us discussing items and going off on tangents. There was a lot of really good discussion and views others had I wanted to hear.

  4. I would have liked to have seen some wrap up, or closure on the last session ... maybe taking the one summary sheet a bit further.

  5. I really liked your tag-team approach --- wished we had more of this kind of approach in other learning experiences.”

In the words of Mike Marois on the impact of the Positional Leadership Initiative:

Providing this initiative is a learning experience. IT Education and Performance Services is in the middle of the IT organization. We are trying to influence the organization from the middle out, as opposed to other leaders who were at the top of the organization and could control change from the top, e.g., De Pree [1987]. Sometimes it is like pushing on a rope, while at other times it is like hanging onto the tail of an alligator. It is premature to boast that it is a roaring success; instead, it is possible to say that there have been unbelievable, incredible transformations. Some people are doing really well, while some are not. I think it is making a difference. The proof will be in the customers who want IT’s services.”
“One example of an incredible transformation concerns a manager who read Max De Pree’s book, Leadership is an Art. Max was head of Herman Miller and presents the idea of servant leadership in this anecdotal book. This manager, who has been an in-your-face command-and-control leader, read the book and wants to adopt this style of leadership. He said, ‘I want to be like that. I want to change. My heart is open. How can I get there?’ This kind of change is incredible. I’ll crawl through ditches to help him get there.”
“In another case of unbelievable change, an introverted, yet strong leader had been through positional leadership. He told a gathering of directors of a situation he had been involved in. He had observed a colleague not behaving appropriately. Rather than keeping quiet, he confronted the colleague, who told him to stick it in his ear. He could have kept quiet at this point, but instead he went up the ladder to the colleague’s director, who noted that his subordinate was achieving expected goals and basically threw him out of his office. He could have kept quiet at this point. Instead, he told this gathering of directors. Later, one of the directors came up to him and said, ‘I’m so proud of you. I know about this situation. It is being resolved.’”

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