When the COVID-19 pandemic began, 3M plant managers were faced with the challenge of leading a team of dedicated frontline workers in an unprecedented situation. They had to determine how to safely operate, work together and move forward.
For Janice Neitzel, plant manager at 3M Menomonie, Wis., the first step was collaborating with fellow 3Mers to solidify a preparedness plan. “Our leadership priority was the safety of our workers,” she said.
A feeling of safety is only possible through open and honest communication. To do this, Janice holds daily meetings and sends employees regular COVID-19 emails. Partnering together and being accessible have been priorities, she noted.
Andee Dubbs, plant manager at 3M Greenville Film, S.C., echoed the importance of providing transparent, consistent information. She immediately sought guidance from expert 3M teams, making sure everything she shared was aligned with the latest science and protocols. “3M’s Occupational Medicine and Environmental, Health and Safety teams were fantastic partners as we collectively strived to keep the safety of our team members at the forefront,” she said.
One specific partner Andee called out for helping drive the steady stream of communication was Marilyn Schullo, vice president of U.S. and Canada plant operations, who scheduled weekly meetings with the plant managers to help them stay up to date on the latest information, learnings and best practices.
“We were led by three simple principles: help keep our people safe and healthy, maintain customer service and ensure business continuity,” Marilyn said. “Providing a steady flow of science-based health and safety information along with implementation of the pandemic preparedness plan at every site allowed us to meet these objectives."
“The knowledge and understanding of COVID-19 was changing daily,” Andee explained. As information and procedures changed, Andee and the team focused on cascading communications throughout the organization, using FAQ resources for answers to common questions. And it proved to be effective, as Valerie Cooke, lean operations manager in Greenville, can attest.
“In this ever-changing environment, Andee continues to prioritize the rapid implementation of new and improved COVID-19 procedures. She walks the plant floor and speaks with employees to learn what is working and what needs improvement. Feedback from everyone helps to continuously improve the COVID-19 procedures. Updated procedures are communicated through email, tier meetings, word of mouth, plant signage and physically distanced employee meetings,” Valerie explained.
On a personal level, this unique time has reminded Janice and Andee of the value in searching for new possibilities in leadership. “You are probably capable of more than you think,” Janice said.
Andee added she believes the situation has set new standards for leading through ambiguity and advises others to know the type of leader they want to be when challenging moments arise.