Spotlight on... 3M

3m Lfr

LFR recently attended a press event at 3M and got a sneak preview of the company’s new Customer Innovation Centre in Bracknell.  An impressive facility, the Innovation Centre is set to officially open in September 2014 and hosts a number of displays highlighting fascinating inventions that the company has made during the past 100 years.

Included in 3M’s wide gamut of inventions – and in no particular order – are the world's first waterproof sandpaper; masking tape; Scotch® Cellophane Tape; Scotchlite™ Reflective Sheeting for highway markings; magnetic sound recording tape; vehicle wrapping films; Post-it® Notes; Scotch-Brite® Cleaning Products; 3M respirators; components for asthma inhalers; sound muffling tape; and goodness knows what else!

Hosted by 3M’s UK-based Commercial Solutions Division team, the press day also provided a great insight into the company and its people-focused culture.  With 89,000 employees worldwide spanning 65 countries, 3M seems to be both an exciting and rewarding place to work.  However, the proof is in the pudding: in the UK, the average length of service for 3M employees is 15 years!

The 15% culture

So, what makes the company such a popular place to work?  Perhaps it could be 3M’s 15% culture?  Based on 3M’s core belief that creativity needs freedom, this programme allows employees to use 15% of their paid time to pursue their own ideas.   The 15% culture was based on the ethos that talented people should be given the time and resources to prove the worth of their ideas.  Even if those ideas don’t come to fruition, the employees will have learned something.

It has been a very successful programme.  Did you know, for example, that Post-It Notes were invented by accident?  Dr. Spencer Silver, a 3M scientist, was busily researching adhesives in the laboratory. In the process, he discovered something peculiar: an adhesive that stuck lightly to surfaces but didn’t bond tightly to them.  For years, Silver struggled to find a use for his invention.

Meanwhile, Art Fry, another 3M scientist, was frustrated. Every Wednesday night while practising with his church choir, he would use little scraps of paper to mark the hymns they were going to sing in the upcoming service. By Sunday, he’d find that they’d all fallen out of the hymnal.

He needed a bookmark that would stick to the paper without damaging the pages.  Thinking back to a seminar he’d attended on Silver’s adhesive, he had a ‘Eureka’ moment.  Partnering with Silver, they began developing a product. Once they found themselves writing messages on their new notes to communicate around the office, they realised the full potential of the idea: ‘a whole new way to communicate’.

Fry decided to make 3M corporate headquarters his proving ground and supplied the entire company with the new adhesive notes. Employees loved them and – following an extensive sampling campaign in the Boise, Idaho area – so did other people.

The notes spread ‘like a virus’, yet like many ground-breaking innovations, this was a product nobody thought they needed until they tried it.  And without 3M’s 15% culture, Post-It Notes may never have existed.

3M’s Code of Conduct

Secondly 3M has a Code of Conduct for all employees.  This is based on six key principles: be good; be honest; be fair and impartial; be loyal; be accurate; and be respectful.  These principles are highlighted on the wall in the presentation suite adjacent to the new Innovation Centre and employees are expected to adhere to them.

The Code of Conduct helps employees take a consistent, global approach to important ethics and compliance issues. 3M employees, including supervisors, managers and other leaders are responsible for knowing and following the ethical, legal and policy requirements that apply to their jobs.  In simple terms, all employees know what standards are expected of them.

This might sound a little dry, but in practice it’s not.  The Bracknell, UK-based office is a vibrant and busy place with a very positive and upbeat vibe.  The canteen at lunchtime was buzzing with conversation; the Starbucks café in the foyer was a busy hub of communication; and there is a rotating schedule of pop-up shops in the foyer area selling a wide gamut of products – from sweets to  books and jewellery – which adds to the general charm of the company.

Ethical business practices

Thirdly, 3M does not just pay lip-service to ethical business practice.  In 2014, the company was listed in the World's Most Ethical Company® by Ethisphere, a USA-based independent centre of research, best practices and thought leadership that promotes best practices in corporate ethics and compliance.   One of 143 companies named on the list, 3M was evaluated in five categories: ethics and compliance programme; reputation, leadership and innovation; governance; corporate citizenship and responsibility; and culture of ethics – and excelled in them all.

Sustainable business model

Finally, 3M has made great strides in sustainable business practices.  The company says that innovation – the art and science of applying creativity to develop practical and novel solutions – has been its hallmark for more than a century.  Innovation is part of 3M’s DNA.

3M’s sustainability vision is simple: it wants to help meet the needs of society today while respecting the ability of future generations to meet their needs.  The company is guided by three strategic principles that make sustainability implicit in everything it does: economic success; environmental stewardship; and social responsibility.

With these strategic principles as a framework, 3M is vigorously pursuing its key sustainability objectives which include managing its environmental footprint; developing solutions that address environmental and social challenges for customers and society; assuring products are safe for their intended use through their entire lifecycle; assuring the appropriate management of any 3M health and safety issues that may touch customers, neighbours, and the public; maintaining a safe and healthy workplace; satisfying customers with superior quality and value; providing a supportive, flexible work environment; supporting local needs and education in communities where 3M employees live and work; conducting business with uncompromising honesty and integrity; and providing an attractive return for investors.

Sustainability at 3M grew from a commitment to both innovation and ethical conduct. By continually increasing sustainability at the economic, social, and environmental levels, the company believes it will build a strong, vital company today, and leave a rich legacy on which future generations can build.

Innovation is the way ahead

So next time you pick up a roll of 3M vinyl, application tape or SprayMount adhesive, it’s re-assuring to think that these are quality products scientifically engineered for excellent performance.  And when you next use your 3M Air Release Tool, your 3M Squeegee Sleeve, or any other useful 3M widget or gadget, it’s nice to think that this product might just have been invented by someone like you, who understood signs and graphics, and used 3M’s 15% programme to come up with a useful tool to make the job just that little bit easier.  Who knows what they will come up with next?