Friday, March 6, 2015

E-Learning: A Blueprint to the Future--A Case of Innovation Planning in the 3M Company

One of the key elements in developing E-Learning programs within a company is the level of engagement of employees at all levels. This engagement needs to move from the typical mandatory edicts that are passed down to the point where employees are engaged out of a desire to be part of a great mission and that they know and feel that what they bring to the table is valued by the decision makers. This needs to be shown in real and tangible ways. Innovation that is built throughout the company is part of a mindset that everyone shows daily by their actions and discussion. Companies that are resistant to granting such freedom to their workforce will find it difficult to hold on to employees as they will be recruited from under their noses or will become part of a rising group of digital entrepreneurs. Companies that see no need to innovate will fade into being niche organizations running to hold on to what share of the market that they already have.

Credit: Fishburne

The obvious question that a company should ask is:

"What benefits will the company see in adopting such an approach?"

Some of the potential benefits are:
  1. This change would give employees across the board a solid sense of company unity and will nurture loyalty to the company brand.
  2. It will enable mentorship relationships to develop to benefit the company as a whole.
  3. It gives employees a desire based upon collaboration to improve on what they do and allows employees to see the challenges that each face across the company's various divisions. It allows for a concerted effort to work to find innovative and lasting solutions.
  4. Personal acknowledgement of innovative ideas in real and tangible ways by company leaders go along way to increasing desire on the part of the employees in making a personal commitment to the well being of the company.
Developing a Systemic Innovation Pattern in Business: The Case of 3M


I think that most people would agree that when it comes to innovation, Google and Apple lead the way. Perhaps one thing that people don't realize is that while Google and Apple were experiencing a meteoric rise to fame, a company called 3M was developing a systemic pattern for innovation which was ahead of its time.
I have to give credit to Therese Berglund, a professional training and coaching consultant, for drawing my attention to the case of the 3M company in 2009. The pattern for pursuing innovation within the company is summarized below:

  1. Build Support Networks: Business is encouraged to build web-based social networks. The purpose is to create a resource that would enable employees who are confronted with a problem to find those who have an answer. With the case of 3M, they created a grass roots networking initiative called Tech Forum. However, it was more than just a database style resource. This employee run group also organized speaker events that would help to address areas where there was a pattern of recurrent questions. Open collaboration between employees and the speakers were encouraged.
  2. Build Collaboration Into Your Employee Evaluation System: 3M created a system that not only rewarded employees for developing an innovative technology, idea or process but also for spreading it. The rationale was that it doesn't advance collaboration which is in the company's best interests if managers or employees hoard or stockpile innovations only to reveal it at the next quarterly meeting.
  3. Encourage Curiosity: 3M allows employees to spend 15% of their time on projects of their own choosing, giving them permission to develop ideas or technologies that were outside their immediate work focus. This type of approach increases the odds of collaboration because employees will venture beyond their own professional knowledge base to seek the insights of others.
  4. Create Innovation Funds: One of the reasons that some innovations that create a lot of excitement in a general meeting end up gathering dust on a shelf has to do with protectionist attitudes when it comes to spending department money on something that is not core related. To overcome this barrier, 3M created what it called the Genesis Fund which was where employees could obtain grants to fund innovative products that didn't fit neatly into defined departments.
Keep in mind that this was the pattern that 3M was following in 2009. There is much we can learn about transformations as they relate to innovation but there are also some warnings that need to be heeded. One value that a business should never surrender is prudence.
Next...Some caveats that we can take away from the experience of 3M

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