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



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Overall Assessment of the Leadership Initiative


It is evident that the leadership initiative at 3M IT is rich in detail and not based on a checklist mentality but rather a deeper perceived need to build community and pervasive business relationships. The positive evaluations of the impact of the Personal and Positional Leadership Initiatives presented above are based on the assessments of 3M employees. Benchmarking 3M against other successful companies corroborates the relative strength of the leadership initiative (see Exhibit 5). The results show that 3M’s IT people recognize that the human resource vision is to provide personal development, particularly for leadership more so than technical skills, and to develop a sense of community. These are critical elements of the leadership initiative and are relative strengths at 3M compared to other companies. Similarly, various human resource practices that are part of the leadership initiative, particularly training and development for business and leadership skills and a sense of community, are rated as relatively attractive at 3M. Finally, one of the key elements of the 3M culture, secure employment, is rated relatively high at 3M.

Impact of the Leadership Initiative on Transforming IT to a Core Competence


Many factors could affect transforming IT to a core competence at 3M. The leadership initiative is but one potential factor. The belief of many at 3M is that people are critical to this transformation and the leadership initiative has been an important contributor. Is the transformation complete? Do customers want IT’s services, as Mike Marois suggests the proof of a successful transformation will be? John Lemanski, Manager of IT Planning with 33 years of experience at 3M, provides this evaluation:

We are still on the executive learning curve. Historically, IT ran payroll, processed orders as an addendum to the business, and provided supplemental support to fundamental business processes. When people started looking at business processes and recognized that technology could help do business in new ways, they started to integrate it into the business processes rather than having it serve as an addendum. Executives began to see the pervasiveness of IT across business functions. They began to recognize how IT could be a core competence. It fundamentally changes the interface with the customer. It provides an opportunity to look at entire new ways of doing finance, human resources, sales, marketing, etc. Previously, IT had a much smaller impact. As executives get exposed, they recognize its power and pervasiveness.”


Dave Drew’s boss, George Meredith, leads the Business Process and Information Systems Steering Committee. This group of high level executives (George is a tier below the CEO) meets every other month to review, approve, and establish policies and priorities for IT and business process reengineering activities across the corporation. It includes group VPs and the head of Finance. Over the last 3 years this group, which is very vocal in linking attainment of business objectives to IT contributions, has demonstrated a much greater respect for the contributions IT is making. There is a real confidence in Dave’s ability to run the organization and in having him use his judgment regarding how IT can help in attaining those business objectives, e.g., how the IT infrastructure should be designed and implemented. He is given a lot more latitude. The committee is not second guessing him and getting into the bowels of IT. Budgetary limits for IT are set (e.g., as a percentage of sales) that Dave has to live within, but he is given latitude in how to spend the budget. Of course, the committee is an approving source for major projects, but very seldom are projects that Dave has worked on not approved. When Dave has come for major expenditure approvals or organizational re-alignment, the committee has been very receptive. Members believe that Dave is delivering the goods. One of the signs of this is the elevation of Dave to group VP and placement on 3M’s operating/executive committee. Another sign is the way the committee operates. Four or five years ago, IT was viewed in a much less favorable light. IT was not business focused and was not delivering solutions in a timely manner. It was late, over budget, and not communicating requirements. The committee kept a close rein on IT. One heard a lot of negative comments. Now there is respect for the IT organization and its contributions.”
Others within 3M supplement as well as reinforce this perspective. They supplement the idea that 3M is still on the learning curve by suggesting that different views of IT exist at the plants and at corporate. At the plant level, there is a sense that IT is perceived as “support” and that engineering is the main function of 3M. Plants view corporate IT as trying to enforce standards upon them. IT staff are not regarded as extremely important to the business there. They reinforce the idea of a core competence by noting that in the past, IT was an essential support function for the business, but it is now becoming an “absolutely integral part of the business.” Furthermore, they note that the current CIO has done an “outstanding job” of building credibility with the top management team.
An example of a customer who wants IT’s services, thereby providing evidence of a successful transformation, is Chuck Harstad, Staff Vice President, Corporate Marketing. He notes that IT is “a tremendous enabler of business productivity and efficiency.” He views IT as “a key business partner helping us enhance our customer interface, achieve our business goals, and enhance our productivity.” Achieving this status has resulted, Chuck notes, from a transformation where IT “has come from the back room to the front room of business at 3M.” He indicates that one of the key elements enabling IT to provide leadership in developing applications that solve business needs is “the development of its people.”

Lessons from 3M’s Innovative Experience


The ability to develop IT professionals who can flourish in the midst of constant change will be a critical capability for IT organizations of the future (Ross et al., 1996). We documented the arduous, sometimes difficult journey that has nonetheless been successfully undertaken at 3M IT to bring about such a fundamental change in its workforce. Some unique elements of this journey are worth underscoring again: the notion of a human resource rather than a technical solution to alignment; the all encompassing focus of the leadership initiative to include not just nominal IT leaders but all IT professionals; and the existence of multiple, integrated initiatives that constitute a coherent set of activities rather than a single program. These elements, the challenges 3M has encountered during the journey, and the lessons learned should prove useful to other IT leaders as they try to recruit, develop, and retain IT human resources as a core competence for successfully competing in the 21st century. Although we believe that simple imitation of 3M’s programs may not necessarily produce desired results in another organizational context, four general principles applicable to others are summarized below. These principles are offered as guidelines rather than strict prescriptions.

  1. The alignment of individual needs and values with organizational goals is an essential component of recruitment and retention success.

While it is true that management thinkers have long emphasized the notion of alignment, discussions of strategic alignment for the IT function (e.g., Rockart et al., 1996) typically do not focus on human resource challenges. In today’s corporate environment where the psychological contract between employer and employee, particularly for the highly-sought-after IT professional, is increasingly becoming transactional rather than relational in nature (Byron, 1995), the development of organizational commitment among the workforce is essential. 3M IT works to achieve this alignment through explicit attention to individual needs, goals, and values in its human resource practices, and by developing an environment that places value on people and their competencies (through the Personal Leadership model). Focusing on achieving this alignment in some planned manner is essential.

  1. It is imperative that a vision for the IT human resource be articulated and communicated.

The description of 3M’s vision identifies essential human resource transitions and personal behaviors required to make the transformation from traditional back-office support to business partner. Our experiences with diverse companies suggest that IT leaders in the past have perhaps expended disproportionate effort on developing technical competencies at the expense of a cogently articulated and communicated human resource vision. In the 21st century, arguably such a vision could be a major source of competitive advantage for any IT organization. 3M chose to focus primarily on leadership – others might seek alternative foci for guiding human resource activities. Whatever, the specific focus, articulation and communication of such a vision facilitates at least three significant outcomes: (1) an organizational transformation, by helping build understanding and acceptance of desired changes, (2) greater success with recruitment and retention of IT professionals, by serving as a guiding vision for communicating with potential recruits and a focal point for the design of specific human resource practices; and (3) explicit guidance for the development of training materials.

  1. Successful initiatives for transforming the IT workforce involve systemic, multiple, pervasive efforts to implement change in both IT managers and IT professionals through brief, focused, persistent activities over time.

The Personal and Positional Leadership Models, their associated curricula, and the evolving Distributive Leadership Architecture, along with the college intern recruiting program offer insights into how to design and implement such initiatives. The systemic thinking and holistic view that accompany these initiatives have led to consideration of many factors and the design of complementary activities that are not just single interventions or unrelated events; rather, they form a holistic set of interrelated, change-oriented activities that facilitate real transformations over an extended period of time. At 3M, these multiple, pervasive efforts have helped bring a human resource vision to reality, not only within the context of helping transform the IT organization, but also within an extremely competitive labor market.

  1. Transforming people in IT takes a multi-year commitment.

Cultural change is not for the impatient or timid since the journey is both slow and arduous. Although 3M IT does not see its journey as complete, its experience and lessons even at this stage of its multi-year journey provide valuable insights for successfully recruiting, developing, and retaining productive IT professionals.

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