Leaders: keep ’em coming!

by 12 Mar 2009

In tough times, organisations need strong and effective leaders to help navigate uncharted waters. Teresa Russell looks at the award-winning approach to leadership development at 3M

Each year, the Hay Group/Chief Executive’s Best Companies for Leaders survey identifies the top 20 best-in-class companies, as well as the attributes that make these companies known for great leadership. In 2008, after the dramatic changes in the world’s economy, the survey showed that peo ple valued “authoritative and democratic styles of leadership in comparison to the other four styles of coercive, facilitative, pace-setting and coaching”.

3M Company – a leading diversified technology company famous for its innovation and global brands such as Post-It, Scotch, Scotch-Brite and Com mand – topped last year’s list of Best Companies for leaders. Greg Teagle, HR manager for 3M Australia, says leader ship development is integrally linked to the company’s business strategy.

“Program impact, content and lead ership needs are reviewed annually to assure alignment to our business strat egy,” says Teagle. He explains that the company’s performance management system and its human capital planning process determine the content of and nominates potential participants for in 3M’s leadership development programs.

Formal leadership development programs

3M’s high-potential employees are divided into four groups, depending on their cur rent positions and perceived future poten tial. They may then be nominated to attend one of five different leadership development programs, ranging from its 17-day Accelerated Leadership Development Program, held annually in the US, down to a program for first- time supervisors, held in his/her own local subsidiary.

Teagle says that leadership develop ment at 3M reaches beyond those people in supervisory or management positions. “Everyone in the company can assume a leadership role, demonstrated from the way we make decisions to the way we behave. All general employee develop ment programs support leadership for everyone in every role,” he says.

Leaders teaching leaders

One of the company’s six leadership attributes is “develops, teaches and engages others”. Its leadership develop ment programs use a blend of internal and external resources. “The practice of leaders teaching leaders has become the cornerstone of 3M’s leadership develop ment courses,” says Teagle. “Each year, over 300 executives participate as faculty in our top three leadership development programs, teaching 1500 leaders from around the globe.”

Alongside the formal development pro grams, Teagle describes the practice of high-potential employees identifying a particular area they need to develop, then giving a one hour “Lunch and Learn Mas terclass” on the topic. For example, a mar keter might need to work on financial skills, so he/she might take an e-learning module on finance and deliver it to staff via a master class. Apart from sharpen ing the facilitator’s knowledge on a topic, it builds a connection between employ ees and leaders and makes the leaders committed to the programs they teach.

“The commitment to leadership devel opment by our senior executives is out standing,” says Teagle. He goes on to quote HC Shin, the company’s executive vice president for its industrial and trans portation business, who said: “I have a philosophy that our business will grow at the speed we grow our leaders.”

Teagle says this is consistent with the views of the CEO and all 3M’s senior leaders, who believe that the stronger leadership is throughout the company, the better the company will perform.

External thought leaders are also used in 3M’s leadership development programs, to ensure “outside-in think ing” occurs. (This means understand ing the customer’s needs from their perspective, and then looking back into the organisation to identify potential solutions). Selection criteria of external faculty are fairly strict. These learning professionals must be recognised as a world-class expert in their field; demonstrate strong speaking and teaching skills; and their field of expertise must align with key learning objectives.

HR’s role

“We own the key processes [performance management and human capital planning] and partner with line management to develop leaders within the organisation,” says Teagle. “We measure for outcomes and observable behaviours and ensure the concept of action learning is built into all leadership programs and experiences.”

He adds that, where possible, HR will document the impact of learning, includ ing actual attainment compared to the initial business plan and the internal rate of return, when appropriate. “This has become an important part of the busi ness case for retaining leadership devel opment programs during challenging economic times,” he says.

Leadership: best practice

Create clarity - people know exactly what is expected of them

Encourage development

Drive accountability - hold senior managers accountable for commitments

Recognise successful leaders

Increase the number of matrixed roles in organisations

Make leadership development a priority - rather than across-the-board development for everyone

Source: Hay Group/Chief Executive Survey 2008

Tips on leadership in a downturn

Be careful you don't do long-term damage to human capital and skill sets by slashing jobs in response to short term (one-to-two-year) cost pressures

Be honest and up-front about the rationale and processes followed to identify and select whose jobs are to be cut.

Be consistent in dealing with people. Good leaders don't change their leadership style because of the economic times. People can detect spin.

Don't damage the psychological contract you have with employees. Lay-offs affect everyone, not just those made redundant. Colleagues who remain have an expectation level about job security and how staff should be treated.

Source: Dr Bruce Hearn-Mackinnon, senior lecturer in HR Management at Deakin University