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3M: Profile of an Innovating Company Case Solution
3M is considered to be a company working its way through creativity and innovations. Its key elements include entrepreneurship, employee freedom, and avoidance from doctoral practices. Experimenting and innovating are the core values of the company which have turned into beliefs over time. Research and development are considered to be the most important department of 3M. Looking after the needs of the customers has played a pivotal role in the development of a culture that encourages experimentation, individual entrepreneurship and responsiveness to the market. However, the philosophy of grow and divide is being followed to maintain the culture of creativity. Buckley and McNerny’s opposite view of running the company had their own benefits and disadvantages
Following questions are answered in this case study solution
What are the key elements of 3M’s vaunted innovation culture?
What are the core values underlying the 3M culture?
How did this culture come about? How is it maintained?
What is your assessment of McNerney’s actions described in the Fortune article, directed toward providing discipline to 3M’s innovation efforts?
What is the challenge facing Buckley, as described in the Business Week article? What should he do about the tension between efficiency and creativity?
Case Analysis for 3M: Profile of an Innovating Company
1. What are the key elements of 3M’s vaunted innovation culture?
The key elements of the much vaunted innovation culture of 3M come from the days when William McKnight joined the organization and took it from a $1 million U.S company to a $1 billion international company with a diversified product portfolio. In 3M, individual entrepreneurship is encouraged and nurtured; their famous policy of devoting 15% of work time on the project of your interest supports this statement. It believes in giving employees the freedom to work their own way and avoiding dictatorial practices. Moreover, employees are encouraged to pursue the ideas they have in the research labs and not be afraid of making mistakes because it strongly believes, from its prior experiences that mistakes make people stumble upon great inventions and achievements. Diffusion of technologies and knowledge across the organization is another element of its culture; 3M encourages the exchange of knowledge and ideas between employees of sales, marketing and research and makes sure that all of knowledge is common and communicated to the whole company. On the other hand, their market responsiveness also helped them in the innovations since it was mostly the problems and feedback from customers that brought them new projects and ideas to work on and came up with new innovative solutions for customers. It supported ideas even when they seemed to have no large market potential.
2. What is the core values underlying the 3M culture?
The journey of 3M starts from 1902 when 5 businessmen joined hands to form a company that manufactured sandpaper. They failed and made losses terribly and after William Mcknight joined the company did its days turn around. The core values of this company lie in how he managed and went about the work there. Experimenting and innovating are one of the most important values and beliefs of the company’s culture; it encourages employees to come up with new ideas, experiment with various materials and flourish their skills by providing them an environment that does not restrict their thinking, experimenting, researching and ways of working. Another core value is the sharing of knowledge amongst the workers; it has always made sure that through regular interactions of employees from different departments and through formal channels and forums, information about new technologies and knowledge is shared and communicated to everyone in the company. It encourages employees to work together in new areas and ideas that come not only from the operations within the company but also from the feedback of its customers. Customers are given immense importance in 3M, and their problems are looked after and many a times these problems led the workers to explore new areas of application and innovate. The culture that emerged stimulated the ordinary people to perform extraordinarily.
3. How did this culture come about? How is it maintained?
This culture of innovation and experimenting came about when the employees were given the freedom to work on their ideas and knowledge was communicated to everyone. It was created because of the flexibility this organization has always shown in its management. Also, the interaction between employees and with the customers led to many useful experiments such as the development of masking tape, scotch tape and reflective tape. Hence, looking after the needs of the customers has played a pivotal role in the development of a culture that encourages experimentation, individual entrepreneurship and responsiveness to the market. Now, this culture was easy to follow and maintain in a small company, but as it grew, so did the number of people and the product portfolio, so the maintenance was a big challenge. To make sure that the flexibility of the organization and its core values stay uncompromised; 3M followed the philosophy of grow and divide, the company was divided into different divisions according to the different products in the portfolio. This exceeded the success rate by keeping intact the entrepreneurial essence of the company’s culture because each division had its own research lab, production operations, sales force and as a division grew larger it was further divided. Till date, the philosophy of grow and divide is being followed to maintain the culture.
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