How 15% Culture at 3M has fostered professional and personal growth among employees?

The 15% culture is the DNA of 3M’s work ethics and helps employees to grow personally and professionally. This culture allows employees to set aside a portion of their work time to proactively cultivate and pursue innovative ideas that excite them.


Photo Credit : People Matters,

Shrey Bhagwanth, Exe. Dir, 3M India

“Hire good people and leave them alone. Delegate responsibility and encourage men and women to exercise their initiative," William McKnight, Former President and Chairman of the Board at 3M.

This is the basic but the most important philosophy of 3M’s work culture in the words of William McKnight. The organization has been following a unique work philosophy called “15% culture” established by Richard Drew at 3M. The 15% culture is the DNA of 3M’s work ethics and helps employees to grow personally and professionally. This culture allows employees to set aside a portion of their work time to proactively cultivate and pursue innovative ideas that excite them.

In light of the same, Shreya Bhagwanth, Executive Director HR, 3M India exclusively shared her perspective on this unique 15% culture BW Businessworld's journalist. Let's see how this culture has proven to be a distinguishing aspect with employees of other organisations and that how has this policy helped them grow.

  1. What aspects of HR have changed and what have remained the same from the last year?

The challenges and the disruptions of 2020 need not be reiterated. 3M HR remains focused on our purpose -  Building Teams of the Brightest minds in the world, Creating a workplace where employees can grow and thrive and offering development opportunities to help  3Mers reach their full potential. We see these areas reinforced in 2021.  

One initiative that we are very proud of in 3M HR is TEJ. TEJ is a learning initiative to help our technical associates on the shop floor learn about personal energy and take onus to enhance their energy levels across dimensions. This theory and content is based on the work of The Energy Audit, from the company, ‘The Energy Project’.  The strong theoretical framework was supplemented with simple exercises to help learning ‘stick’ with our technical associates. Keeping COVID protocols in mind, the learning sessions were delivered virtually where employees could log in through their cell phones, thus respecting social distancing guidelines. In many ways, we had technology that bridged the social distance gap!  The content and direct mode of engagement with our plant colleagues offered a learning opportunity and contributed to enhanced employee morale during the challenging time of delivering to our customers during the pandemic!  We continue to drive this in 2021 to ensure coverage of all our Technical Associates even as we look at designing and curating new areas for engagement.

We have received great feedback from the employees on the resonance and connection with these programmes and we are scaling it up and having a version 2.0 this year. 

2. What are the prominent characteristics of the work culture at 3M India?

Culture is the way things get done in an organization. Here at 3M, our people, and the culture we live, are one of our four Enterprise priorities. We define our culture through five Culture Elements. They exemplify who we are when we are at our best and challenge us to live and work differently. Each element contains defining characteristics that we can incorporate through new approaches and ways of thinking. 

Customer at the Core – Is all about Thinking like and With the Customer. 3Mers are not just focused on delivering solutions but also measuring performance like the customer would.  This reflects in our Business Teams and how 3Mers ensure connect and contact and value to our customers. It reflects in functions like HR which has designed and led the implementation of the new Performance Management system based on employee feedback. 

Innovating Boldly – We innovate by leading the way in Science and nurturing curiosity and experimentation. We are looking outward for inspiration and knowledge. During 2020, this manifested in our partnership with companies like Ford, Cummins to address COVID related solutions. Several innovations from the India Lab team are recognized by the global Divisions and Businesses for their impact and contribution. 

Powered by Inclusion – Inclusive Behavior is critical for 3Mers so that everyone can be themselves and express themselves in a way that resonates best with them. Inclusion at 3M means creating an environment where different perspectives afe sought out and embraced, so that people feel safe, respected, valued and free to create, innovate and share their ideas. WE believe in Employee Resource Networks (ERNs) as a great tool to listen and for 3Mers to make a meaningful difference. This includes the Women’s Leadership Forum, the New Employee Opportunities Network, 3M PRIDE etc.   It also means that we foster learning and development opportunities for all 3MErs. In early 2021, we released the first-ever Global Diversity, Equity & Inclusion report for an in-depth look at the accomplishments of the past year, and the work we still have to do. 

Winning with Agility – This culture elements ensures 3Mers have ownership of execution and are empowered in their decision making.  The manner in which we quickly redesigned how we work in the plants to incorporate stringent COVID- 19 related protocols is a great cross functional example of this Agility. even more COVID-19 related safety measures. We launched Flexibility 2.0 in 2020 as we understood that everyone's needs are different and individual. 

Unwavering Integrity – This is the bedrock of 3M values and ensures that we hold ourselves and our fellow 3Mers to the highest standards of honesty and ethics. It also guides our focus on sustainability and our work in the communities that we are a part of. 3M has consistently been named as one of the World’s most Ethical Companies by The Ethisphere Institute. 3M India launched the 3M Impact Local – a volunteer program for employees while they are embedded with select non-profit organisations. 11 3Mers in India were a part of this unique initiative in 2020 and we will continue to drive this volunteering actions. 

These culture elements are key to driving our behaviour and culture for 3Mers.  They are critical to the Employees experience of being a 3Mer. 

3. How does the company’s 15% culture promote innovations at the workplace? How is this impacting/benefiting the employees?

The 15 % Culture is a 3M philosophy born out of the McKnight principles: “Hire good people and leave them alone. Delegate responsibility and encourage men and women to exercise initiative...” 

It is akin to a license for all 3Mers to innovate and pursue their passion for projects that will provide new growth opportunities. It is important to note that the 15 % culture is not equal to 15% time- it is simply any amount of time that a 3Mer can spare above and beyond their regular job responsibilities and pursue areas of interest and passion. This is not something that we need management approval to pursue. The 15% culture is a unique attribute of 3M culture, pursued by many companies, yet successfully replicated by few. The 15% culture is foundational to the 3M experience and for 3Mers this has simply become yet another crucial part of being in the Company. 3Mers pursue this in their own different and unique ways, that resonate with them. It might mean seeking out uncommon connections by networking across the company, proactively engaging with customers, Attending Tech Forum events and symposia, Forming a special interest group around a technology platform or idea. The 15% culture has been the force behind several game changing innovations in the Company. 

4. How was the policy of 15 % culture at 3M reaped in first place? Who was the founding body behind this initiative?

The groundwork of 3M’s collaborative and organizational culture started with William McKnight, who served as the company’s President and then Chairman of the Board for 37 years. The policy of 15% culture is one of the founding philosophies of 3M as propounded by the multi-talented engineer and inventor, Richard Drew. By adopting this technique, employees can now tap into their creative side and bring new and innovative ideas to the table. It has fostered professional and personal growth among employees since its introduction.  Above all else, it emphasises to each one of us the importance and difference we can make as individuals by pursuing our areas of passion and interest. 

5. Can you share few examples of achievements by employees through this?

There are many examples and awards that our employees have won with the help of this philosophy. Some extremely successful products that were born and commercialized include Multilayer Optical Film, Cubitron™ Abrasive Grains, Emphaze™ AEX Hybrid Purifier, APC™ Flash-Free Adhesive and Post-It® Notes. 

Recently, Dr. Neelakandan Chandrasekaran, Advanced Research specialist at 3M was also awarded for his achievement in the next generation dialysis treatment which would improve the quality of life of the patients.

6. What has been your strategy for talent acquisition and retention?

It is vital for us to ensure that 3M has the high performing and skilled diverse talent, necessary to partner with our customers and markets, represent our communities and grow our markets. Talent Acquisition helps us address skill, competencies and representation opportunities in the organization. We invest leadership time and focus on talent acquisition. An equally important facet is the onboarding and the new employee experience. We have transitioned the onboarding to a completely virtual experience and would look at strengthening this. We have also launched NEON (New Employee Opportunity Network) in 3M India – An Employee Resource Network, which enables new hires to network, engage with 3Mers and each other and presents and informal opportunity to connect.  New Employees go through a programme called “Feel @Home” which gives them an overview of 3M across business and functions and an opportunity to engage with other leaders and peers/ 

We are also focused on ensuring 3Mers continue to feel engaged, motivated, and challenged in their roles.  3M recognizes that retention is multifaceted, and we work across the employee engagement spectrum – From helping 3Mers connect with their purpose, to enabling their wellbeing and engender a feeling of belonging. Appreciation, Recognition and transparent and open opportunities for growth and development are other levers that we strive to strengthen. 

7. Can you mention and explain key L&D initiative/programs at 3M India?

The underlying philosophy for our Learning and Development function is “Development for All “. This ensures that we have an L&D portfolio which has something to offer to all 3Mers , irrespective of role, function, geography, level. We have an extensive Virtual Learning portfolio in our platform Develop U, and this was vital to our L&D priorities in 2020. In fact, 3M India came out tops, in a friendly competition across 3M subsidiaries in Asia for virtual learning participation numbers, as 3Mers devoured the content and learning opportunities available on Develop U.  We have a wide portfolio of L&D programs accessible to all employees on this platform. Employees can sign up for most of these programs and in most cases, it does not need supervisor approval. Learning programs focus across our Culture elements, reinforcing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts and our prioritized Enterprise Core Skills. Supervisors and People Leaders are a critical priority, since it ensures that all Supervisors have a uniform understanding of their role and this ensures that 3Mers have a “one 3M” experience. The Blue-Collar Workforce is an important employee group that we prioritize from a knowledge, skills, and attitude perspective. 3M India has had initiatives like ACT and TEJ for our Technical Associates which have been recognized in the 3M world for their impact and novel approach. Needless to say, we also have a critical development portfolio for High Potential employees. This has been redesigned and is being launched as “Leadership Way”. We are excited about how our high potentials can really benefit from this global intervention and engage with peers and colleagues around the world.  3M also has a separate team focused on Sales Excellence program which helps our Sales Team build on their capabilities.  

8. What would be the company’skey priorities 2021 onwards?

We have 4 Global priorities for HR and we will focus on delivering on these

Design for the Future of Work – 2020 has seen the launch of projects around Flexibility 2.0 and Performance Everyday – A Performance Management system, which empowers the supervisor, drives regular communication between employee and supervisor and facilitates Anytime Feedback. In 2021, our focus is to embed this in our day to day work and employee experience. 

Activate our Learning Ecosystem - In 2021, We continue to build a learning ecosystem which will nurture a culture of continuous and self-directed learning. The focus is not just on skills but the mindset – a growth mindset, which embraces opportunities for experimentation and learning. Our Learning system also facilitates the strengthening of our People Leader capabilities. We recognize that People Leaders are the key to the employee experience and would like to ensure that they have access to all the tools necessary. 

Accelerate Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in our culture – We will continue to drive advocacy and leadership commitment for increasing representation in teams. We have set sustainability goals for doubling our diverse talent management pipeline by 2025 and will continue to execute this. 

Lead through Next Gen HR – 3M HR must be a Leading Edge to facilitate 3Mers and the 3M Culture!  

In 2020, we ran an organisation wide employee Survey called CENSUS. We also expect to drive the actions and feedback coming from the CENSUS during 2021.

9. What are some of your top predictions in HR for 2021?

2021 will likely see elements of the much touted “Future of Work” in action. Remote Working, WFH, WF anywhere models will drive flexibility options for employees. The investment in Wellness Programs made in 2020 will continue into 2021 as HR looks at Wellness as an essential benefit going forward. The pivot to Virtual Learning was accelerated last year. During 2021 and beyond, we are likely to see more engaging , AR / VR linked  Learning platforms with richer content and connected peer learning. This will also facilitate the ownership of development by employees. Our expectations of Leadership will evolve to allow for a compassionate yet decisive persona. Lastly the overall User Experience that each one of us has as customers in a virtual set up, will drive a more connected and meaningful Virtual employee experience.


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