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Latest Ideas in Leadership Development: From New Manager Research to 3M’s Innovative Leadership Way

At i4cp, we see a consistently high level of interest in—and dedication to—effective development for leaders, from first-time managers to top-of-house executives.  

Just this month, members of i4cp’s Executive and Leader Development Exchange and other working groups used their meetings to explore early-leader training considerations. And a member-driven flash call featured lively conversations among talent leaders about development strategies in their organizations. 

For those involved in training lower-level leaders, Developing New Managers: Key Elements for Success, a free white paper based on 2019 i4cp/ATD research, snapshots issues in preparing front-line managers to drive business performance through strong team leadership. The research found three in four organizations provide training specifically for new managers, and many of those offer both structured development programs and individual learning assets addressing the knowledge and skills effective leaders need.  

3M’s Leadership Way delivers a comprehensive, innovative development journey

Developing New Managers

Building on i4cp’s new manager research is a case study that explores a premier, multi-level leadership development program that has garnered praise (and a certain amount of envy) for 3M. With a century-plus heritage of service to both consumer and commercial markets, the Fortune 500 company describes itself as a leader in applying science “in collaborative ways to improve life daily.”

The Leadership Way: How 3M Applies Next Practices to Develop Global Leaders (Members Only) highlights 3M’s success in remaining agile, innovative, and competitive in a volatile world, while also continuously evolving ideas about the meaning of transformational and people leadership.

A globally consistent approach 

Extending across businesses and functional areas, while drilling down to first-time leaders (and even aspiring not-yet-leaders), the 3M Leadership Way delivers consistent development across the global organization and extensive learning content built on six behavioral attributes that characterize leadership at 3M:  

  • Play to win
    • Prioritize and execute
      • Foster collaboration and teamwork
        • Develop others and self
          • Innovate
            • Act with integrity and transparency

            A unique design develops leaders at all levels

            Now in its fourth year, the 3M Leadership Way comprises four component programs focused on developing leaders capable of positively impacting not only 3M, but the world beyond it. Unlike many traditional development approaches that focus on upper-level leaders, the Leadership Way also emphasizes mid-level and early-career leaders.

            The four components and the leaders they serve:

            • Spark targets new leaders and individuals who are not yet in those roles, but want to explore what leadership entails.
              • Ignite is designed for early-career leaders ready to define their passion and purpose as they learn to inspire others.
                • Amplify aims to take those with already-robust experience to the next level with an exploration of the complexities of transformational leadership.
                  • Catalyst, the program’s premier component, serves senior leaders who are positioned to be drivers of positive and powerful change.

                  Experiential learning plays a major role 

                  Director of leadership and talent development Linda Kiester oversees development of 3M leaders and, more broadly, all employee development, strengthening an enterprise-wide learning ecosystem that builds skills needed for the future. She notes that experiential learning is a big part of the Leadership Way, as it is across the greater organization. 

                  “At 3M, we have emphasized experiential learning since we were founded in 1902. We believe everyone has opportunities to learn through experience here, and that happens in the various ways people progress in their careers and move through the company.”  

                  Within the programs of the Leadership Way, learning through experience is a core element at every level. Kiester describes examples that feature challenges selected by 3M CEO Michael Roman, collaborative projects that embed program participants in customers’ businesses to help solve problems or exploit opportunities, and life-changing community projects that pit 3M leaders against critical social issues on an international scale.

                  Next practices in action

                  3M’s development programs and approaches exemplify the creative application of what i4cp terms next practices—practices correlated to positive market performance and in limited use among organizations overall. Typically, next practices are found more often in high-performance enterprises.

                  At 3M, the widespread use of job rotations as a skill-building strategy (done by only 15% of organizations overall) and rotational assignments as a means of encouraging collaboration across business functions (done by 19% of organizations overall) highlight a high-performance culture in which next practices are a way of life.

                  Other examples of next practices are found in the use of senior-level leaders as teachers in Leadership Way programming and 3M’s commitment to thoughtfully measuring the effectiveness of the experiential development that takes place.

                  Actionable takeaways for talent development

                  Global responsibility for talent and leadership development in an organization frequently recognized for its leadership excellence means that Kiester and her colleagues at 3M often help set the curve in innovative and effective development programming. For the case study, she shared four lessons learned to provide actionable takeaways for talent leaders.

                  One of those lessons with particular relevance for development of new managers and early-career leaders speaks to the importance of striking a balance between the focus on transformational leadership preparation and training in fundamental leadership skills.

                  “Change is an ongoing way of life in businesses today, so transformational leadership is imperative. And we have this great Leadership Way program that delivers a lot of value in building transformational leaders,” says Kiester. “But you also have to make sure you are keeping leaders fresh on the fundamentals of how to guide people on their journeys through the employment lifecycle. At 3M, our People Leader programs help build those critical people-management skills.”

                  For more of Kiester’s leadership takeaways and greater insight into 3M’s high-performance approach to leadership at all levels, download The Leadership Way: How 3M Applies Next Practices to Develop Global Leaders (Members Only). 

                  Carol Morrison
                  Carol Morrison is a Senior Research Analyst and Associate Editor with the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), specializing in workforce well-being research.