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

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IT and Its Evolving Role

IT at 3M consists of the people, technologies and processes that provide worldwide information-based solutions needed by 3M’s business units. Through the application of advanced technologies and the leveraging of emerging technologies, IT meets its clients' continually changing requirements by developing systems, installing new software and providing support services. There are 3,000 IT professionals worldwide, about 1,800 of whom are in the United States. Several contractors are utilized for specialized technical needs. In the application development group, as many as 55-60% of the staff are professional services contractors. IT governance at 3M follows a federal model (Brown, 1997). Most of the IT professionals are located in a centralized corporate IT organization; however, 3M also has information technology positions in its autonomous business units and manufacturing plants. The central IT organization defines the technical architecture, designs and supports the technology infrastructure, and develops corporate-wide information system solutions. The business units and plants, in turn, develop support systems pertinent to unique staff or business needs.
As the Chairman’s letter points out, IT is conceptualized as a core, integrating function at 3M. Interestingly, that has not always been the role accorded to IT. The erstwhile IT organization was characterized as a “technical, back-office, buried-in-the-woodwork” type of organization. In prior years, IT reported up through the Finance function and the highest IT executive occupied the position of a Director. At that time IT used to “wait for requirements to come hurtling over the wall.” The organization was, at best, reactive.
Things have changed considerably -- not the least of these changes is the fact that IT is now a major player in the business. The current head of IT, Dave Drew, is a group VP and serves on 3M’s operating/executive committee. There are about 40 divisions or business units plus various staff groups at 3M. Each business unit and some divisions have had autonomous CIOs. Although all told there were 20-25 IT functions floating around, there has always been a strong central IT function. Out of all this “mish-mash” of IT Dave wanted one IT organization, even out to the international IT organizations. He wanted to tighten the linkages to him and get them working together. To accomplish these linkages, Dave radically changed IT governance and brought the staff units under central IT control. Division IT functions have been consolidated into 6 IT areas around market centers. Each IT function has a dual reporting responsibility to Dave Drew and to the business VP/market center head.
His objective is to work hand-in-glove with other group Vice Presidents with a focus on IT becoming a core competence throughout 3M. He wants IT to be seen as a partner rather than a support function. His vision is that executives should be asking how IT can enable the business to succeed, and they should be involving IT in decision making as decisions are being made, not after decisions are made, at least for processes in the business unit if not product decisions.
Besides re-aligning the organization, Dave recognized that 3M needed a fundamental transformation in its IT people to make innovative use of IT. He embarked upon a journey to achieve this transformation. During this journey, he and Bob Roepke, manager of IT’s Education and Performance Services group, began to experience labor market pressures related to recruitment and retention. Together they recognized that changes were crucial to align IT human resources with the vision of IT as a core competence at 3M. The traditional IT human resource environment, no longer adequate, was one where IT managers defined the tasks to be performed, identified needed skills, specified jobs for performing specific tasks, and directed IT professionals to perform the tasks. IT professionals saw IT managers as the ones who directed their work and saw their own job as complying with what they were directed to do. Individual initiative and discretion in IT job performance were circumscribed.

An Innovative Approach to Transforming the IT Workforce: The Leadership Initiative

Dave and Bob developed and began implementing a new vision for the IT human resource. At the core of the new IT human resource vision are two major conceptual models that guide management’s thinking in designing recruitment, retention and development programs. These models describe required shifts in the role of IT managers and professionals (see Exhibit 1, the Transition Model), and leadership competencies necessary for the IT workforce (see Exhibit 3, the Positional Leadership Model). Among the fundamental transitions in the Transition Model is the shift from a command-and-control philosophy, where managers define tasks, skills, and jobs and direct IT professionals, to a more collaborative philosophy where IT professionals play a participative role and exercise personal leadership. The Positional Leadership Model is based on a perceived need for a new form of leadership capable of guiding a changing workforce, which must exert its own personal leadership, in a fluid environment. A fundamental assumption underlying the model is that everyone has responsibility for leadership. Indeed, the model explicitly acknowledges that while technical competencies are no doubt critical for an IT function to succeed, the ability to be entrepreneurial and creative is perhaps more important in a turbulent business environment.
Although some people spend more time on leadership than others, the core idea is to help all IT professionals align. Alignment at 3M IT is viewed as consistency between what individuals desire from their own career development perspective, and the needs and direction of the IT organization. People need to understand themselves first, particularly what they are passionate about. Each individual is responsible for making contributions and preparing to be able to do so. Thus, the whole leadership initiative has a much broader set of elements than one would find in the traditional leadership development activities undertaken at most major corporations. A fundamental difference is that it is directed not only at IT leaders but also at IT professionals and at building community.
As is evident from the discussion above, the leadership initiative at 3M IT has many elements. Our purpose is to describe key elements of this innovative approach to transforming the IT organization. We do not present this description as a definitive formula, but rather as a systemic, evolving transformation. We believe that others can learn from 3M’s experience and adapt elements for application in their organizations. The leadership initiative at 3M IT is not a silver bullet, nor a magic pill. It is a commitment to a journey of change: a process that is rugged, at times exceedingly uncomfortable, and continually evolving. We describe several pieces of this change. We start with (1) the fundamental conceptual model of the new versus the old way that managers and workers interrelate (Exhibit 1) and (2) the personal leadership model (Exhibit 2) and curriculum that has been widely implemented to help 3M’s IT organization move toward one where everyone exercises leadership responsibilities. We then provide a brief description of the positional leadership model (Exhibit 3) and experience with selectively implementing that piece of the change process. Finally, we present a conceptual overview of a more complete suite of leadership development services envisioned for the future, referred to as the Distributive Leadership Architecture (Exhibit 4).
The Genesis of the Leadership Initiative

The elements of the leadership initiative took time to crystallize and emerge. The impetus came from diverse sources within 3M. Within IT’s Operating Committee, i.e., at the top management level within IT, the felt need to do something with leadership resulted in all of those leaders participating in a Tom Peters several-day experience (e.g., climbing ropes, etc.) in Fall 1994. That was followed by the five principles of leadership (Kouzes and Posner, 1987) being accepted as key leadership practices for inspiring a shared vision: encourage the heart, challenge the process, model the way, share the vision, and enable others to act. The Operating Committee was so moved by their experience that the rest of the leadership was immersed in 1995. The Operating Committee and the next level down went through a 3-day experience together. Then 1,000 went through a mandatory one-day learning experience, “Leadership Is Everyone’s Business,” where they were encouraged to do more of the five leadership principles. Not all reactions were favorable; indeed, some people went through the program kicking and screaming. They did not disagree with the five principles, but they said, “I’ll do it when I see others do it.” Six months later, the Operating Committee asked, “Where do we go from here?” They realized that the sheepdipping approach of sending everyone to a one-time leadership program would yield only a marginal impact on the organization as a whole. That’s when the assignment to develop an IT Leadership Development Center came to Bob Roepke, Manager of IT Education and Performance Services.

During this same time period, IT began to experience labor market pressures related to recruitment and retention. In early 1995, some key people were leaving. Not only were those leaving not happy, the marketplace was undergoing significant change. In the past people would typically look at their managers to ask how to get ahead. Back in the 1980s key factors in promotions were the number of months an individual had in a job and the number of education credits. Promotions were handed out fast and furiously and IT professionals exhibited an “entitlement” mentality. With changes in the marketplace, promotions became fewer and far between. Success was harder to achieve and reward. Critical questions arose for IT management at 3M: how do we get the best people, how do we keep the best people, and how do we get people to be their best while they are at 3M? Developing answers to these questions was part of the broader human resources, organizational, and leadership questions that needed to be addressed within Bob Roepke’s area of responsibility.

We needed to view these issues more holistically, provide some systemic thinking, and develop innovative approaches to building a motivated 3M workforce. We believe leadership is the key factor and must ensure that everyone is engaged in a journey of change.”

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