3M’s Jayshree Seth: You can build trust with employees if you “Cultivate the ‘Can do!’ Counsel the ‘Can I do?’ and Coach, ‘Be candid’

I’ve seen stats that say 50% of employees quit their jobs citing dissatisfaction with their managers! I often talk about the three main elements, apart from the functional management of roles, responsibilities and results, that my managers did to foster a trusting relationship that helped me thrive.
When I was in a ‘Can do’ mode — motivated and passionate about something, taking initiative and pursuing an idea — my managers didn’t try to talk me out of it. Taking initiative should be encouraged because it not only builds self-confidence and enriches experience-set for effectiveness, but it builds engagement and can lead to tremendous growth for the company.
When I was in a ‘Can I do?’ mode — more tentative about an assignment or opportunity that had come my way — my managers listened to me, acknowledged my feelings and opinions and helped me work through it. The ‘Confidence Gap’ between men and women has now been well-documented. Again, company culture plays a critical role in this and I benefited from managers who valued diversity and placed trust in my capabilities.
Lastly, when I had ‘Candid’ feedback coming my way, my managers were honest and coached me on how to manage my weaknesses and continue to build upon my strengths. Their feedback wasn’t sugar-coated, but was handled in a positive way that was empowering. The backdrop was always about making me more effective in my endeavors. This allowed me to take their feedback to heart and try to adjust my style and approach in an authentic fashion.
Cultivating the ‘Can do!’ Counseling the ‘Can I do?’ and Coaching, ‘be candid’, can go a long way in building trust with employees. It allows employees to lead, innovate, thrive and ultimately contribute effectively towards achieving the company’s growth objectives.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Jayshree Seth who is a 3M’s first ever Chief Science Advocate. As a Corporate Scientist, she currently focuses on new product and technology development for sustainable Industrial Adhesives and Tape products. As 3M’s first-ever Chief Science Advocate, Dr. Seth fosters conversation with various audiences around the world on the importance and benefits of science in everyday life. A focus area is making science more relatable and encouraging a new generation of scientists and science advocates. Dr. Seth has a PhD in Chemical Engineering and holds 60 patents for a variety of innovations. She is big believer in bringing your “whole self” to any task and tries to spread this wisdom through mentoring and speaking to groups around the world on topics such as intellectual property, innovation, leadership and career development.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

I was raised in a small university town in Northern India, in the foothills of the Himalayas, surrounded by scientists and engineers. With a prestigious engineering institution right in town, everyone aspired for their kids to become engineers, even their daughters, primarily because they wouldn’t have to leave home! In the time and place where I grew up, most girls didn’t have many independent thoughts when it came to the future. We really didn’t have any STEM women role-models and I never thought of myself as the ‘engineering type.’ However, with strong encouragement from our parents, we all attempted to get into the local college.

Although I wasn’t admitted into my hometown engineering school, I still ended up getting my Bachelors in Chemical Engineering. During the final year of our program, many of the students at the top of the class were applying for graduate school in the US and I decided to apply as well, just for fun. I was accepted and my life took a different course.

In graduate school, I ended up on a theoretical project — modeling of crystal growth in space. Sitting at the computer, running my programs, I found myself yearning to run physical experiments like some of the other students. I completed my Masters but realized my heart wasn’t into my current research area, so I looked into switching. Many students advised me not to switch projects because it would make my doctoral work harder and add years to the completion of my PhD, but I went for it anyway.

I had a fire lit inside of me and wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. I threw myself into the study of diamond-like carbon films and worked many long hours and weekends in the lab, running experiments, analyzing data, summarizing the work and publishing it. I realized that I had an aptitude for technical communication and presentation and worked to further develop my skills. I ended up with over a dozen publications with the help, guidance and support of my thesis advisor and lab-mates. This experience showed me that it is possible to reinvent oneself — it just takes grit and determination!

This mindset led me to jump at the opportunity to join 3M after I was offered a job following a summer internship, despite it being in an area I knew absolutely nothing about. My past experiences had given me the confidence to know that with hard work I could learn anything and would be able to reinvent myself if I had to!

3M’s strong innovation and employee empowerment culture has been a perfect fit for me. In 2013, I was promoted to the distinguished title of Corporate Scientist — the highest position within the technical ranks. In my 25 years at 3M, I have worked on many different product and technology platforms, market areas and project types. I’ve held many roles and am inspired to come to work every day to apply science to improve lives. I was recently appointed the first ever Chief Science Advocate, which aligns with my passion for sparking inspiration and love for science, and, fulfilment in science-based careers. In this role, I hope to work with various audiences around the world to help them recognize, and, appreciate the impact of science in our daily lives.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began your role as Chief Science Advocate?

I am honored to have been appointed as 3M’s first-ever Chief Science Advocate and it has been great to receive so many messages from fellow 3Mers who have said they couldn’t have thought of a better candidate to represent 3M in this role. I am so grateful for that and feel empowered to have this network supporting science surrounding me.

Given my new role, many of the pictures that are taken at various events end up on social media. It just so happened that, at several of the events, I was wearing the same vest. Of course, it took my social media savvy teenage daughter to point it out to me. It told her, ‘you can take the scientist out of the lab, but you can’t take the scientist out of the lab-coat.’ She found that funny and suggested that it didn’t take a ‘scientist’ to figure out that the new Chief Science Advocate needed a new wardrobe and ’advocated’ for herself to be the ‘chief’ stylist. I declined her offer — she didn’t think that was as funny!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

There are many things that make 3M stand out in my mind. Among them, the adherence to the McKnight principles: In the words of William L. Mcknight (3M President 1929–1949 and Chairman of the Board 1949–1966), “Management that is destructively critical when mistakes are made kills initiative. And it’s essential that we have many people with initiative if we are to continue to grow.”

As a company, 3M truly values collaboration and encourages employees to pursue projects they are passionate about. We have a ‘15% culture’ that empowers employees to allocate 15% of their time to work on projects outside of their daily focus. We have grassroots initiatives and grant programs like Genesis that empower process over outcome for new and disruptive ideas. Our Tech Forum events, by the technical community for the technical community, allow 3Mers the opportunity to learn, network and share context around our 46 Technology Platforms. Our ‘Dual Ladder’ career track allows technical people to have tremendous influence despite not being in people management.

Above all, is 3M’s inspiring brand platform, 3M Science. Applied to Life™ and our employees’ commitment to embodying this by applying science to change lives.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?

In my “day job” as a Corporate Scientist, I am always working on new and exciting projects and collaborating with other engineers and chemists to breakdown complex problems and find solutions that stick! Unfortunately, I can’t share details about what I am working on in the lab, but there are a lot of exciting things happening in my Chief Science Advocate role — both externally and internally at 3M.

Internally, we are working on a variety of initiatives aimed at empowering the next generation of scientists via mentorship programs, grants and speaking engagements. We just launched the State of Science Index results in March, so now it is about educating our employees on what this means and how they can become advocates for science in their communities and countries.

Externally, I am working to get the word out about the importance of science and the impact it has on our everyday lives. We are constantly hearing about the challenges we are going to face as a society in the coming years, especially as our population grows to exceed an estimated 9 billion people by 2050. Science is going to play a major role in addressing these challenges, yet the State of Science Index found that 40 percent of people don’t think their life would be all that different if science didn’t exist. It’s time to change that perception through advocacy and empower people to become catalysts for change.

What advice would you give to other leaders to help their employees to thrive?

I’ve seen stats that say 50% of employees quit their jobs citing dissatisfaction with their managers! I often talk about the three main elements, apart from the functional management of roles, responsibilities and results, that my managers did to foster a trusting relationship that helped me thrive.

When I was in a ‘Can do’ mode — motivated and passionate about something, taking initiative and pursuing an idea — my managers didn’t try to talk me out of it. Taking initiative should be encouraged because it not only builds self-confidence and enriches experience-set for effectiveness, but it builds engagement and can lead to tremendous growth for the company.

When I was in a ‘Can I do?’ mode — more tentative about an assignment or opportunity that had come my way — my managers listened to me, acknowledged my feelings and opinions and helped me work through it. The ‘Confidence Gap’ between men and women has now been well-documented. Again, company culture plays a critical role in this and I benefited from managers who valued diversity and placed trust in my capabilities.

Lastly, when I had ‘Candid’ feedback coming my way, my managers were honest and coached me on how to manage my weaknesses and continue to build upon my strengths. Their feedback wasn’t sugar-coated, but was handled in a positive way that was empowering. The backdrop was always about making me more effective in my endeavors. This allowed me to take their feedback to heart and try to adjust my style and approach in an authentic fashion.

Cultivating the ‘Can do!’ Counseling the ‘Can I do?’ and Coaching, ‘be candid’, can go a long way in building trust with employees. It allows employees to lead, innovate, thrive and ultimately contribute effectively towards achieving the company’s growth objectives.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

I have been blessed with a great number of supportive managers and sponsors, allies and advocates, in a company that has accepted me for who I am and hasn’t tried to fit me in a “box”. So, it’s hard to pick just one person who has really helped to shape my career success. That said, I received a piece of advice from a former boss that really liberated my thinking, early in my career, when I was agonizing over what seemed to be, at the time, a very important career decision. She told me: “Jayshree, make the best decision for you, for now.”

The decision I made then didn’t close any doors, but may have opened many more. At the time, it was important for me to be confident that it was the right decision for me, given the circumstances, but to also know that my entire career wouldn’t be based on this decision. It was liberating to know that if circumstances changed, I could still decide to pursue an alternate path.

Everyone’s career journey is unique and will take shape based on what they value in their professional and personal lives.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I am fortunate because I love what I do and have now been given the opportunity to help others realize the importance of science and, hopefully, inspire future generations to pursue science and apply it to improve lives.

As someone who has had a fulfilling career as a scientist, I know the important role science plays and want others to recognize that, as well. Again, we are going to face some pretty serious challenges in the coming years, whether it’s related to energy, food, water or climate change, and science is going to play a role in finding solutions to all of them.

If I can lend my expertise to help create a better future and lend my voice to help foster interest in science for the next generations, I will feel like I have accomplished something great and left a lasting legacy.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me About Being a Leader” and why.

Here are 5 key elements from my own career journey and observations along the way. (You can read more about these on my LinkedIn).

1) Of leaders and ladders: You don’t need to climb the corporate ladder to the top-most ranks to finally become a leader. Take initiative, inform, influence and inspire to have impact right from your rungs. ‘Thought leadership’ allows you to flex your leadership muscles without having formal authority. Take initiative, learn as much as you can about a pertinent topic or issue, build the mosaic- tile by tile and paint the narrative with internal tribal knowledge and external information to convince yourself and others of any action or thought you are advocating. There are many people who can solve problems, but very few who can establish the problem to solve! Thought leadership organically provides you with higher visibility, exposure and opportunity, and the power to strategically steer things or lead new things.

2) I’m SUPER SMART — don’t just settle for SMART goals: The time-honored SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) can often fall short in sparking imagination or inspiring people to achieve greater things for themselves and their organizations. Goals today need to relate to accomplishing not only what is deemed strategically Important in the short term, but also potentially Significant in the mid to long term. We need to attend to critically Urgent matters that may arise much later than the formal goal setting process at the beginning of the year. During the course of the year, we must identify and follow through on reasonably Prudent things that can impact our business. It is imperative we remain flexible and potentially take on added responsibility based on our assessment of Emerging trends. Through all of this, we also need to continually be Reverent of the opportunity we have and remain active in ‘give-back’ and furthering the goals of our larger organizations. The above elements allow sound leadership development and put more soul into our goals to let us truly shine and showcase capabilities as a SUPER Smart leader.

3) Make your TALKS matter: Now that you have a point of view, you will need to communicate it! Treat every talk you give and every presentation you make as very important. Commit to improving communication and public speaking skills. There are an overwhelming number of TED Talks on how to give better talks. However, if we break it down to the essentials, it is fairly simple. The word TALKS says it all: there is the Topic, the Audience, the Layout, the Key points and the all-important Story. The story provides a connection with the audience. Everybody can read the slides, but the story serves as an ‘adhesive’ that help the ideas stick with the audience. Numbers and templates can be easily forgotten. Stories can make what you say memorable, informative and inspirational. Consciously work on these aspects and once you have it all together, practice, rearrange and re-organize, as needed. Stay true to your style. Genuine authentic speakers are more successful in selling an idea or an ideology with their TALKS.

4) Don’t make the most common innovation ERRORS: Now that you have established yourself as a leader, you will need to foster creativity and innovation. It can be difficult in a corporate setting, but can be made easier if a few fundamentally essential elements are addressed. Unless a person is intrinsically highly motivated, most people deliver better when there is a general Expectation. This expectation can change the way we think and operate. In addition, with Resources and encouragement to take Risk, we feel the freedom to be more creative, in our own way. If there is ample Opportunity for collaboration and support to champion, lead and implement our ideas, we are inspired to deliver results. The associated Reward and recognition for successful value creation further inspire us to innovate. Above all, the continued Socialization of the concept of being innovative and its place in a company’s culture, and link to rewards and recognition, helps sustain it. It’s about the stories that are communicated and the narrative that lives on. As a leader, a lack of system level approach to any of the above would be a mistake.

5) Acknowledge work-life semblance: Now that work and life are so inextricably intertwined, the similarities between work-life and home-life can be embraced more to lower work-life balance related stress. The recognition, acceptance and even the incorporation of work-life semblance features may just be the next frontier in the ever-evolving work-life story. It could help not only with employee engagement, but facilitate more sustainable innovation, inspirational leadership, global effectiveness, and diversity and inclusion. The more aligned work and life are, the more natural and authentic it will feel, thereby, lowering stress. Benefit from making home-life decisions with a little more discipline and work-life decisions with a little more heart once you are a leader.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?

Be good. Work hard. Live well.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this :-)

I would love to meet Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo. Her efforts over the last decade to lead the company in a new direction with the ‘Performance with Purpose’ roadmap have been very inspiring. With rapid globalization, change in technology and shifting demographic trends, many large public companies face daunting challenges and it would be interesting to discuss how her team envisions balancing the short-term deliverables and the long-term vision. I would also like to hear from her, in her current roles, at work and at home, how she draws upon her experience of growing up in India.