3M’s SVP of HR Kristen Ludgate on a Better Way to Attract Top Talent


Kristen Ludgate, who leads 3M’s human resources team, talks to The HR Digest about the “15% culture” philosophy that has helped attract the industry’s most driven workers and how tough times can have a motivational impact on the workforce.

Kristen Ludgate Global HR Leaders Interview Series

The HR Digest: 3M is said to have a passionate work culture fit for the industry’s most driven workers. To what extent is that down to a successful ‘Culture of Innovation?’

3M’s SVP of HR Kristen Ludgate

Kristen Ludgate: 3M’s culture of innovation definitely comes through in the experience and approach of 3Mers during their day-to-day work. That culture rewards experimentation and encourages collaboration with colleagues around the world. It also drives teams to explore new ideas through our “15% culture” philosophy, which empowers 3Mers to work on projects of their own choosing, outside of their regular scope of work.

All of this takes energy and drive, for sure, along with a willingness to learn, adapt and engage. More than anything, I would describe 3Mers as passionate. 3Mers are passionate about using science to solve some of the world’s toughest challenges.

‘Listening strategy’ is one of 3M’s core strengths. Can you tell The HR Digest readers more about 3M’s recent Cultural Revolution and how the initiatives promote change within the company in practical terms?

We launched a new culture framework in 2019 to articulate what our culture is – and what we aspire it to be – with a focus on building on our strengths and committing to stretch ourselves into the future. The very first thing we did was deploy multiple listening channels to bring the voices of our employees all over the world into the process of defining our aspirational culture.

We crowdsourced globally, and received more than 200,000 ideas and reactions. We led focus groups, created advisory and steering teams, and engaged our executives in workshops and feedback sessions. In response, we created five culture elements that reflect what we heard.

From there, we used a grassroots cascade to bring the elements into our teams, empowering all 3Mers to define how they would bring the culture to life. It was not a top-down approach, even though this work was sponsored by our CEO and senior team.

As we continue to bring our culture to life in our operating model and our HR practices, we continue to use surveys, crowdsourcing, focus groups and other tools to ensure our people are heard. For example, before launching a new performance review system this year – dubbed Performance Everyday and hinged on our culture elements – we used crowdsourcing and other tools to hear directly from 3Mers about how to best improve our approach.    

Do you see HR as a business partner or HR as a business driver?

Both! One of our four strategic priorities at 3M is People & Culture – because we know talent development, leadership, culture and organization effectiveness are all central to our business success. As an HR team – and as business drivers – we bring strong perspectives, leadership and strategies on these topics, helping to define the People & Culture direction that will propel our company forward.

At the same time, HR cannot do this alone or in a silo. It requires deep partnerships with our businesses and functions. And, of course, the employee experience is created by the actions of leaders and teams every day. While HR can help bring the right tools and frameworks forward to advance business goals, we are most effective when we have strong partnerships with the operating teams and create opportunities to strengthen the support we provide them.   

How is 3M responding to the COVID-19 crisis? What are your top priorities as you navigate through this crisis?

From the beginning, the safety of our employees and the public, including health care workers and first responders fighting COVID-19, have been our highest priorities. 3M has a high calling during the pandemic given our role as a leading producer of respirators and other PPE that is critical in the fight against COVID-19. It starts with employee safety, education and support – these enable everything else, and are top of mind for me and my colleagues every day.

We have put enhanced safety protocols in place, moved to remote work arrangements where we could, and added benefits and flexibility to help our employees manage work and their personal circumstances. We recognize the different needs across our varied geographies, roles and workplaces so have continued to adapt and adjust as the pandemic has evolved. Throughout, we have continued to listen, communicate and have prioritized flexibility.

What is that one leadership practice you wish to start as we buckle up for the ‘new normal?’

I’m thinking a lot about how to bring the best learnings from 2020 into the new normal, whenever that arrives. We’ve placed a big emphasis on psychological safety, creating space for people to have a bad day or to share their personal challenges, and how we might better support them. I think we’ve all gotten to know each other a bit more through hours of virtual meetings and the need for dialogue about working arrangements. On my team, we’ve been more intentional about creating safe spaces to speak up.

Personally, I need to keep working on this. It’s so easy to forge ahead given how busy we all are, but making time to understand the personal needs of our teams increases effectiveness in the long run – and it’s the right and human thing to do.

In my role leading the team, I often think about what steps we can take each day to be more adaptive to the diverse circumstances of our team members all over the globe – whether it’s something as basic as respecting time zones or blocking time to think, or creating new ways to collaborate in ways all voices can participate, remotely or otherwise. 

What is your personal approach to decision-making? Would you call it more analytical or intuitive?

I spent much of my career in the legal profession, so I definitely bring an analytical perspective to taking in information, assessing the situation, and considering solutions, risks and benefits. That said, my decision-making rhythm is more intuitive and iterative. I tend to see the big picture first, have an intuition about how to get there, take some time to get data and input, but also emphasize forward motion – to keep from getting stuck in the analysis phase. This means being willing to adapt as you go.


Kristen Ludgate Senior Vice President – Human Resources, 3M

Kristen Ludgate Headshot

Kristen Ludgate works with 3M teams globally to activate its People & Culture priority through transformational culture, talent, and organization effectiveness strategies. In addition to her role as CHRO, Ludgate is the President of the 3M Foundation, lead 3M’s DEI and social justice strategies, and work on a number of enterprise issues—such as ESG, innovation, portfolio, governance, employee relations, workplace experience, ethics, and leadership development.


A version of this interview appeared in the October 2020 issue (p. 54) of The HR Digest. 

Priyansha Mistry
Currently editor at The HR Digest Magazine. She helps HR professionals identify issues with their talent management and employment law. | Priyansha tweets at @PriyanshaMistry

Similar Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.