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1995 Vision Optimas Award ProfileBR3M

February 1, 1995
Related Topics: Vision, Retention, Workforce Planning, Featured Article
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As I interviewed people at Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Co., I noticed that my sources all expressed a similar sentiment, that they're proud of being 3Mers. Sure, when interviewed most people try to portray their companies in a positive light. But in this case the expressions were much more personal.

Take, for instance, this comment from Kathleen Stanislawski, staffing manager: "I'm a 27-year 3Mer because, quite frankly, there's no reason to leave. I've had great opportunities to do different jobs and to grow a career. It's just a great company." Tom Vaaler, HR director for the Life Sciences sector and marketing, also proudly proclaims: "I started here the day after I graduated from college and I've been here 32 years now."

These work histories are typical at the St. Paul-based firm. "People tend to come and make a home here," says Dick Lidstad, senior vice president of human resources. "We're a company of long-service employees." That long service translates into less than 3% turnover among the salaried staff. And pride.

How is this accomplished? Partly through a promote-from-within culture that enables workers to achieve their full potential. But that's only part of it. Says Lidstad: "If you think about what makes people proud of a company that they work for, and makes them want to stay, it includes a lot of things: it's what kind of products you have and whether they're quality products; it's what kind of a corporate citizen the company is; it's what kind of environment you work in, whether you're treated fairly, whether you have good pay and benefits. All those things and lots of others add up to why people are proud of the company for which they work, and I think 3M by and large addresses each one of those areas."

In fact, one of the company's corporate values is to be "a company that employees are proud to be a part of." And although this value was only formally written up approximately two years ago, it's a "re-statement to capture in contemporary language what really has been the situation all along," says Lidstad.

Indeed, this particular value was a prominent factor when the company faced difficult staffing challenges in the early 1980s. It was then that for the first time in its history 3M had to address the possibility of layoffs, a situation that could have severely damaged the company's strong positive relationship with its employees. Rather than allowing that to happen, the company devised a system called the Unassigned List, that enables salaried workers through management level whose positions are eliminated to seek jobs elsewhere in the company.

Around this same time, the company realized efforts to bring new blood into the company to satisfy its commitment to innovation weren't as successful as it hoped. "We were finding that we were too late making our offers and we were missing some of the very best people," says Lidstad. And, getting quality people in at the entry level was vital to successfully maintain internal promotion. As a result, the company developed a Designated Requisition policy that ensures that 3M recruits college graduates each year in a timely manner.

Both of these programs successfully addressed the challenges 3M confronted. Even more importantly, they have continued throughout the last decade to ensure that 3M has a solid work force filled with quality workers who are proud of their company.

A job for life isn't guaranteed, but certainly possible at 3M.
The unassigned list, says Lidstad, really was designed because of the fact that 3M has a "loyal, dedicated work force of which members come to work for 3M, not a specific division. It makes sense then that if we're making adjustments in the size of the work force in any given business unit that we try and utilize those excess resources elsewhere in the company. It would be counter to our culture to be laying off people in one division and hiring in another."

Given this goal, the purpose of the unassigned list is to "allow people whose jobs have been eliminated — through no fault of their own — a six months' time frame to find another position within 3M," says Stanislawski, who along with three others in her department runs the unassigned list program. During that six months, workers continue to draw their benefits and salaries, and even receive salary increases if they're due.

Within the first four months of the employees' job searches, they also have the option of taking an unassigned severance package and leaving the company. This package includes a week and a half's pay for each year of service and six months' paid benefits. Workers who are over age 50, but not yet retirement age, also may receive a corporate preretirement leave package that allows them to continue benefits until retirement, as well as continue earning service credit. And then those who are over age 55 receive a special bridge to social security.

If a worker chooses not to take the compensation package after four months, and fails to find another position within 3M at the end of the six-month point, he or she is terminated from the company. This rarely happens. According to Stanislawski, of the approximately 200 people who went through the unassigned process during the first three quarters of 1994, only one or two of them made it to day 180 without finding work. On average, those who do find other positions within 3M — which is approximately 50% of the people who go through the process — do so within three and a half months

The success rate is high for several reasons. For one, there's never an overabundance of workers on the list looking for reassignment. During the nearly 15 years that the program has existed, for example, only 4,000 people have been on it in total. That's because even at the times of its heaviest downsizing, 3M cuts no more than 1% to 2% of its U.S. work force. And, at these times, the company supplements the unassigned list process with a group separation plan that allows workers to voluntarily leave the company with a compensation package.

Second, the company has a commitment to hiring these workers. The unassigned list policy actually states that people in this program receive priority consideration. That means if a hiring manager wants to hire someone who isn't on the unassigned list, despite the fact that there's a qualified candidate on the list, the manager must get approval from his or her boss and the division's HR manager. "We don't expect that hiring manager to hire anyone who isn't qualified," says Stanislawski. "But if a candidate on the unassigned list is qualified, we want to make sure that there's a good business reason to not hire the unassigned person."

Another reason why the program successfully places people is that it makes clear to the employees on the list that their primary responsibility is finding a job. "If they still have current work responsibilities, we work it out with their bosses to assist with the handoff of that work so that their top priority can be to find a job," Stanislawski says.

In addition, the company offers an abundance of support to help the workers find new employment. The support starts immediately. Within a day or two, Stanislawski's department contacts the people whose jobs have been eliminated, gives them a packet explaining the unassigned list policy and answers any questions they might have. Then, they're invited to attend a 3-day transition workshop that Stanislawski's department offers once a month.

The workshop begins with a discussion about change and the effect of job loss. Workers are then given an opportunity to do some self-assessment, which includes charting their career histories and prioritizing what's most important to them in this current job search. The first day concludes after a discussion of resume writing and interviewing.

The next day, Stanislawski's department helps workers write their resumes and practice interviewing. For the third day of the workshop, Stanislawski brings in people from different parts of HR and a representative from an outplacement firm to discuss various topics. The outside person explains what outplacement is and what type of services the workers could expect if they choose to leave 3M. An employee services counselor comes in and talks about the importance of support when going through a job transition. A benefits representative answers questions about the compensation package offered. Someone from the company's relocation department gives a brief overview of what 3M offers in this area. And a 3M HR person explains the company's electronic job-posting system, called the Job Information System or JIS. Because this is one of the methods in which these people will be looking for jobs within 3M, this session offers workers who haven't used the system before an opportunity to ask questions. The workshop ends with HR people helping the employees analyze the results of the interest and skills self-assessments that they did on the first day.

Each of the sessions in the workshop is voluntary, and workers can pick and choose which ones they want to attend, if any. However, Stanislawski says that most of the people on the unassigned list attend at least part of the workshop. "They have a lot of questions and that's what we're there for," she says.

HR's support doesn't end with the workshop. They're available to these employees to answer questions, to relay information about how they did on interviews and even to help sell the workers to potential hiring managers. In fact, although employees must search for jobs themselves by using the Job Information System and networking within the company, Stanislawski's department will pass their files on to managers who are looking for someone with their job skills. "We review the open positions and provide files on their behalf," she says. Often, hiring managers contact Stanislawski's office even before their job openings have been approved for the JIS, "so an unassigned person may get a call without even knowing there's an opening," she says.

Stanislawski also receives calls from other companies looking to fill positions. Although she doesn't give out the names of people on the unassigned list, she will give the people on the list these openings to pursue if they're interested.

Another avenue for the people on the list is temporary assignments within the corporation. These assignments can be driven by the unassigned person who is looking to acquire a new skill, or by a manager or a human resources person. When an employee takes a temporary assignment, the clock on the six-month job-search period stops. In other words, if the person had been on the unassigned list for two months when he or she acquired the temporary position, he or she would have another four months on the list after the assignment ended. Often, however, these temporary assignments lead to permanent positions, in which case the workers would be taken off the list completely.

The unassigned list has had positive results. "I hear people say continually that although looking for work is a stressful time, they're grateful that we provide this system," Stanislawski says. "We really help these people. It's been wonderful when you see the people who are even happier when it's all over."

Even more important, says Lidstad, is the message that the program sends to the entire corporation. "The message says that we value you as an employee and believe that you're part of 3M," he says. "That whole relationship between our employees and the company is critical to the kind of success we've had."

Continual college recruitment ensures 3M of a promotable work force.
The company's success comes not only from the value 3M puts on its people but on the value its people add to it. That's why the company has a strong emphasis on hiring quality workers. "We have always been careful in the people we recruit because we know that they're more than likely going to be with us a very long time," Lidstad says. "Especially when you promote from within the way we do, you want to make sure that you're recruiting high quality people."

The designated requisition program and the company's college recruitment strategy support that commitment. The designated requisition system was put in place to make sure 3M had the opportunity to hire high quality new college graduates early on. Through the program, hiring organizations, while doing business planning for the following year, must submit a request to upper management for a certain number of college recruits to fill entry-level exempt positions, which could be in the technical areas, sales, finance and so on.

Once these requests have been approved — which is June or July, with the goal being June to coincide with college graduation — they're in effect until the following March (a little longer for PhD candidates). The policy states that once the requisitions have been approved, they're irrevocable. According to H. Martin Hanson, manager of college relations, however, the company actually fills approximately 75% of the requisitions each year because of various factors.

"The designated requisition program is part of the whole strategic hiring process," Lidstad says. "We're constantly looking at the kind of additional resources we need and then we go and find them. Also, this program is used especially heavily in the technical areas for lab and manufacturing jobs and that's critical to our whole strategy of innovation and new products."

Although the number of college graduates that 3M recruits each year varies based on business needs, the company has hired approximately 225 a year for the past couple of years. This translates into a little more than 60% of the company's total new hires. "When you have a philosophy of promoting from within, you have to be getting new blood into the company via college recruiting," Hanson says. "New people bring new ideas."

To accompany the designated requisition program, the company has set up a five-part college recruitment strategy. The first element is to concentrate its efforts on 25 to 30 selected universities, rather than to spread itself too thin on a larger number. Second, it has a commitment to a continual presence at these selected universities. "One of the worst things you can do as a corporation is to be at a university one year, drop out the next, and return a few years later," Hanson says. "It's an issue of trust. We're there every year and we're in a hiring mode every year."

Having committed to a continual presence at selected colleges, 3M institutes coordinated campus communication and activities. "By coordinating all campus contact and coordinating all the information, we have a group of people who get to know a particular university well," says Hanson.

That group of people is a focus team, made up of anywhere from three to 15 3M employees who range from recent college graduates to senior executives. These focus teams, whose members are volunteers, carry out the schedules made up by the corporate recruiting staff and do the recruiting for the company's intern and co-op programs. "We heavily use line and staff personnel in our recruiting efforts because they can talk about what types of jobs people are interviewing for from a real-world perspective," Hanson says. "Our role in the college relations function is to train and develop the focus teams and communicate the overall strategy."

Related to the coordinated campus communication is a continuity of contact, which is having the same people working with a particular university over an extended period of time to develop relationships and get to know the people. "It's difficult to achieve, but it's important to have," Hanson says.

The fifth element of 3M's college recruitment strategy is continuous improvement. The college relations staff frequently asks students they've recruited and interns working at the firm for feedback on the process. They also keep up with what other companies are doing in this area.

The interns and co-ops are an important source of college grads for 3M. "The people participating in intern or co-op programs are so valuable as new employees because they have almost instant startup time when hired full-time," Hanson says. "They already know the company well."

Each year, 3M employs more than 300 summer interns, a majority of whom work in and around the St. Paul area. Two years ago, it started a new program for recruiting among these ranks.

What the company does is put together a book containing the resumes of all of the students currently working at 3M. The book is circulated to all the hiring organizations within the company. Managers within these organizations then prepare an interview schedule for students to whom they're interested in talking. The interviews take place on Career Information Day, a day on which students have an opportunity to visit various booths set up by hiring organizations and learn what types of jobs are available. Hiring managers may schedule additional interviews with students who visit their booths at this time.

"This particular event has resulted in a lot more offers earlier," Hanson says. "In fact, in 1994 we doubled the number of offers made within a month or so of the career fair, just simply by marketing those students better to all of the hiring managers." In 1994, approximately 30% of 3M's college recruits came through an internship or co-op program. That number is increasing every year. Hanson's goal is for it to be 50%.

Early career assessment strengthens the work force.
The goal of 3M is to hire quality workers, whether or not they come through intern programs. That's why in 1993, 3M added another element to its hiring process called the Early Career Assessment. Basically what this system does is help 3M determine early on in a person's career if he or she is promotable. "You could be fully qualified to do the job for which you're being hired, but we're actually hiring you to do a job beyond that," says Vaaler.

When people are hired, the company explains to them that they'll be measured over the next six months to three years against a career growth standard. The time period varies based on the tasks involved. In the case of a clerical worker, for example, it may only take six months to determine whether or not a person could reach the next level. But in the case of a scientist in the laboratory, it may take a full three years.

The tools for measuring promotability, of course, would vary for different types of jobs as well. Here's an example of how an entry-level worker in the accounting department might be assessed. One measuring rod of his or her career growth potential would be becoming certified as a management or public accountant within an 18- or 24-month period. He or she also would probably need to perform audits and prepare accurate statements. And, because a division accountant — the level being aspired to — needs to communicate complicated financial information to his or her business partners, the lower-level worker would need to demonstrate proficient presentation skills.

During the career-assessment period, the company would give the worker training in these areas, as well as offer opportunity for him or her to perform these tasks. "We provide opportunities to learn and to do the work and then measure the worker accordingly," Vaaler says. "Certainly, before we promote him or her, we would have given the person a chance to show us whether or not he or she could do significant components of the new job." Vaaler adds, however, that the person won't necessarily receive the higher job by the end of the assessment period, but must prove that he or she has the potential for getting there. Or, "if it's our judgment that the person can't get there, no matter what, we'll separate them from the company based on the agreement we made with them from the outset."

The Early Career Assessment, although a fairly new program, works in conjunction with the long established job requisition policy and unassigned list. All work toward the company's goals of recruiting high-quality workers who are promotable and take pride in their work and their company. Together, they have helped 3M grow its business while continually bringing in new people and protecting the jobs of those already employed.

Personnel Journal, February 1995, Vol. 74, No. 2, pp. 28-34.

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