Article: 'Learning is an integral part of innovation': 3M's GT Lim

Learning & Development

'Learning is an integral part of innovation': 3M's GT Lim

Employee learning and development is crucial for companies to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis intact, says GT Lim, Country Leader of 3M Malaysia. And looking beyond the crisis, learning is integral to the kind of long-term innovation that makes companies even stronger.
'Learning is an integral part of innovation': 3M's GT Lim

COVID-19 disrupted many companies' learning and development strategies, or even brought some to a halt. But just as many other organizations have been able to keep L&D going despite the difficult situation. People Matters asked GT Lim, Country Leader of 3M Malaysia, about 3M's learning culture and strategy, and how he and his team have been ensuring that the company can continue to keep learning and development going even during this period of disruption. Here's what he shared.

What skills do you most highly prioritize for development at this point in time?

To emerge successfully from the current crisis, companies will need to cultivate digital, cognitive, social and emotional skills, as well as the adaptability and resilience of their employees. These are fundamental skills that will be useful no matter how an employee’s specific role may evolve.

These are also ‘no-regrets’ skill sets or investments that companies can provide for their employees to expand their ability to operate in a fully digital environment and be productive within the company’s ecosystem. Moreover, it will also help to develop employees’ critical thinking to ensure that they can respond to the need for redesign and innovation in an atmosphere of increased autonomy.

Furthermore, we also want to ensure effective collaboration among employees by enhancing their social and emotional skills to keep professional ties strong despite the distance. To thrive during an evolving business situation, it is crucial to build employees’ adaptability and resilience skills—this is so that they can take new experiences as a source of learning.

With the right investment, skill development initiatives can help improve the technical knowledge, adaptability, and resilience of the workforce. Developing this muscle will also strengthen companies for future disruptions.

What are some key upskilling or reskilling initiatives you have implemented?

At 3M, we have always valued our people the most and made deep investments in ensuring that our employees are well supported in their endeavors. We have leadership development offerings in the form of 1:1 Leadership Coaching that will help employees unleash their potential and navigate change. Additionally, we offer a variety of mentoring opportunities, outside the normal reporting relationship. Mentoring is part of learning through others with the objectives to support and accelerate employee development at 3M, improve job satisfaction and retention, facilitate knowledge sharing, provide opportunities to network and build relationships, and provide learning opportunities for both mentors and mentees.

Within Southeast Asia, we have an ongoing program for Growth Leadership that has been developed to build a pipeline of future leaders to lead the growth of the company. It is a structured program running for a period of 9 to 12 months where the participants will have an excellent opportunity to learn together and interact with colleagues across the country and Southeast Asia.

An initiative we took up during the COVID-19 crisis is to encourage our employees to work on their Individual Development Plans. These are plans that employees have put together in consultation with their supervisors. It helps to bridge the gaps and address opportunities in the employees’ current roles and also build future capability for aspirational roles.

We have also encouraged our employees to take ownership of their careers and development by providing opportunities and platforms for employees to do so through our Virtual Instructor-Led Training as part of our ‘Develop U’ program, which has 10,000 plus learning resources in more than 15 languages.

Additionally, all our employees are encouraged to incorporate 2-3 areas for development of their choice as part of their annual career goals.

What role does technology play in your learning strategy?

Technology has allowed greater accessibility to learning by offering anytime and anywhere delivery. It also allows learners to advance through required—or desired—course content at their own pace. This means employees can choose how, when, and in what order they learn based on their own needs.

We aim to engage and personalize learning through technology. Learners are more interested when they want to learn. Using the various technologies available has helped in developing a learning strategy that engages learners, motivates them to learn more, and increases knowledge retention.

By using technologies, a trainer is also no longer confined to geographical constraints. This also translates to savings in terms of travel cost and time spent. Additionally, repetitive courses such as employee onboarding can be converted to online courses so our trainers can focus on improving the content of the training rather than conducting them over and over again.

Could you share how you have been able to make learning a part of work?

3M is a global science company that never stops inventing. We have an extraordinary record of innovation which has earned us 122,000 patents. Naturally, learning is an integral part of innovation. Therefore, it’s no surprise that 3M places a strong emphasis on employee development.

One of the key ways that we make learning a part of work is through the foundation of 3M’s collaborative innovation model, our ‘15% Culture’. This approach which inspires creativity, risk-taking, and collaboration started six decades ago.

For decades, the ‘15% Culture’ has been a part of 3M’s innovation process. It empowers 3M employees to work on projects of their own choosing outside of their regular scope of work. Our culture encourages a unique approach to innovation—we apply technologies in ways you wouldn’t think because we’re not afraid of setbacks on the path to success.

The truth is, sometimes, you need to fail in order to learn and that is how some of the best inventions come about. We have amazing people, as well as measurement and reward systems that foster collaboration, encourage dissent, tolerate mistakes, reward teamwork, respect responsible risk, and spur success. It is central to our approach to innovation, which drives the growth of our businesses and the success of our company.

Flexibility is also an important factor to incorporate learning as part of work. Leaders should start focusing on having flexible business models that allow employees to thrive and grow in their respective working environments.

How are you measuring the success of your learning programs?

For us, the success of our programs is evaluated by how much our employees have engaged with us during a certain training program or how engaged they continue to be with upcoming projects.

One of the ways that we measure success is by asking participants to fill up a short survey after the courses to evaluate the success of each course and identify areas for improvement.

We also provide employees with the opportunity to move into new roles within 3M as part of their capability building journey. Local and global job postings are open to internal applicants as well. More regional exposure and opportunities are also available to employees.

Could you share a few small steps that have worked for you to ensure that learning continues despite the disruption and stress of the last 6-9 months?

We recognize the challenges that our employees have had to face over the past few months, especially for parents who have to juggle work and caring for their children during the lockdown.

Therefore, it was critical for our employees to know that leaders in the company acknowledge this fact, and the company offers flexibility to help them as they try their best to work through this.

Here are some learning-focused initiatives that 3M Malaysia has been working on since the pandemic:

Incentivized employees to expand their knowledge by running the ‘Learner of the Quarter’ contest, where employees who complete a minimum of three courses can enter a lucky draw.

To help our employees become more effective during these challenging times, we also provide various collaboration tools as well as virtual trainings in the areas of Growth Mindset, Change, Agility, Remote Supervision, Inter-cultural Collaboration and Virtual Collaboration.

In times of rapid change like these, providing employees with the right guidance and support systems, cultivating a transparent working culture, driving open dialogues, and leading with empathy are constants that all leaders should adhere to as we adapt to lead and learn in the new normal.

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Topics: Learning & Development, Leadership, #ReimagineLearning

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