With nearly 30 years of experience leading communications, Brian Henry is passionate about driving impact through breakthrough storytelling and data-driven stakeholder engagement. Currently, he shapes those elements for 3M, for one of the world’s leading science companies with more than 90,000 team members around the world. Here, he discusses how communications can impact desired behaviors and how enabling leaders with direction and tools supports positive change at scale.
What’s something new you or your team is focused on in 2023?
Brian: Intentionality. For communications, this is about focusing on the output, or behavior we want to change, or mindset we want to shift. It’s not just sending out a communication, but more about being intentional about who needs to get it and what they need to do when they get it.
What’s your organization’s remote work policy?
Brian: 3M offers “Work Your Way” that allows 3Mers to choose hybrid, fully remote, or office and empowers managers to make the decisions that are right for their teams. This has worked really well for us in part because it drives a conversation and a decision: what works best for me? Knowing that the policy is based on trust and flexibility, that conversation goes a lot better. When people can elect their work location it becomes a competitive advantage. A growing reason people choose 3M is Work Your Way.
We know the benefits of remote work. What are your top 3 challenges with it so far?
Brian: There is folklore that if you’re not seen, you’re not valued, you can’t advance, and your opinion doesn’t matter. We had a moment in early 2021 where we reviewed survey results for our team and saw feedback that we were not promoting enough people. When we looked at the numbers, we actually had more than 15 promotions for people with zero days in the office – it showed that you are valued, you can advance, and your opinion does matter, no matter where you work.
In-person time is so much more important – another area we are being much more intentional about at 3M. For example, developing a truly global plan is key to building a global team that works together rather than in working across silos around the world. When it comes to that work, there is a lot of benefit in being in-person — no lagging internet or technical difficulties, clarity of body language, mix of work and non-work interaction, and so on.
Similarly, decision points are much faster in-person because I can swing by your office and get feedback. The “work of work” goes faster when you can drop in because it enables rapid decision making for the many little decisions that add up. In a virtual environment, this process can be delayed and lengthened because it requires scheduling meetings and an instant message or email may not be enough to fully convey an idea.
What’s different about Employee Experience in 2023?
Brian: You see a lot more individually directed development. Everyone is hungry for upskilling: the world is changing, so how do I get ready for it? In the past, we’d say “here are the five classes we have available this quarter.” Now, if you want to learn strategy, finance, presentation skills, etc. you can learn on your own time/pace and whenever/wherever you want. It’s amazing but also daunting.
Flexibility is another major change.
Often we talk about work/life balance as if they are two separate things. Work/life is more like a mobius strip – parts of the same thing.
Good news is you take control more of what you do… Maybe an email at 8pm is no problem for you – your day is divided up how you want it to be.
One of the big questions on everyone’s mind is, how do you build a thriving culture virtually? We’re all still figuring it out. But what comes to mind for you?
Brian: Being available. We have “micro meetings” every day – “I noticed you are available (green dot) so I wanted to give you a quick call” – is the equivalent of popping into the office. Accessibility is an expectation you must set with those you work for, work with, and supervise. For me, if someone says they need me for a quick minute I’ll delay getting on another call. Those connections really matter. Showing responsiveness makes a big difference.
Immediacy can get misinterpreted. So can a slower response. It’s not creating an “always on/I have always to respond immediately” mindset, but rather “I care and you matter enough to me to respond right now.”
Performance reviews. For me, it’s less about the list of everything you’ve done, but more about what you’ve helped other people do. How did you help your colleague get better? Did you focus on your things but not think about how to share your expertise with others?
How is your organization leveraging engagement surveys today?
Anahita: We do an annual survey and are working our way up to pulse surveys, probably sometime next year.
Brian: 3M does an annual engagement survey. Communications also does a rolling quarterly pulse survey (25% of the company at a time) with questions like are you finding what you need? Do you understand where we are heading?
What is the post-survey action planning process like at your organization?
Brian: We share results with the organization – CEO huddles, Leader town halls, and team meetings – and encourage managers to review and discuss results with their teams as well. In addition to communicating the results, we also address opportunity areas. For example, if we hear employees don’t understand the direction, you know we’ll be focusing on that through these events and our editorial calendar more broadly.
We cascade this process and often find we can get more exact about actions to take the further we go into the organization. Cascading down can sometimes get lost, but it’s okay for people to tell the story differently as long as it’s generally the same fact set, just going with your own style.
Big picture, accountability around action plans is challenging. Managers have a lot of things on their plates already and we don’t yet have an effective way to directly enable and measure these actions (but hope to soon!).
So how do we create an environment where accountability is easier to deliver? Providing direction and tools is a start.
For someone else in your role, which priorities should they have on their radar?
- Intentionality. We lose when we assume that someone has read, watched, or listened to a story we are trying to share. Make it easily available and find out if people are engaging. If so, why? If not, why not?
- Leadership across all parts of the organization. It’s not about the number of people you lead, it’s about helping others be successful.
- Audacity to communicate – it’s easy to NOT communicate, especially in a virtual environment. Everything communicates, including your desire, or lack of same, to engage with colleagues.