Shifting to Hybrid Work
Coleman helped 3M adjust to another profound change during the COVID-19 pandemic: the move to hybrid work. As the company’s employees demonstrated that they could work remotely, they also expressed different preferences for working remotely, in person or a combination of the two.
“We trust our people,” Coleman says. But she knew 3M couldn’t just talk about trust—it also had to walk the talk. So in 2021, Coleman helped create and implement a policy that allows employees to determine how, when and where they work. And for employees whose roles in manufacturing or research and development require more in-person work, 3M provided greater flexibility through shift work and job sharing.
“It’s been hugely successful and really significant from an engagement standpoint,” Coleman says of the global policy.
However, Coleman realized that 3M had to do more than simply announce such a transformative shift. “We had to spend a lot of time with the change,” she says. “We had to be clear with employees that there wasn’t a change in the expectation of delivering a job—they’re just delivering it elsewhere.”
3M also had to ensure its culture remained strong, even among a distributed workforce. To do that, Coleman helped create a policy that promotes “moments that matter”—times when teams convene in person.
“That’s not about everyone coming in so the manager can look at them work,” she says. “It’s about having intentional time for teams and team members to come together and feel connected to one another.”
Coleman is no stranger to leading transformation at 3M. Several years ago, she successfully executed what she calls “the herculean task” of implementing a new platform that delivers customized learning experiences. The platform launched after just one month of development that took place around the clock and around the world.
“That’s not something you can do by yourself—you can only do that with a team aligned in the same way,” she says. “I’m not successful if the only person progressing is me.”
Throughout her life, Coleman has learned repeatedly the importance of saying yes to change. In college, she planned on studying neuroscience. But as she took pre-med classes, she decided that while she could do the work, she didn’t really want to. Her mother wasn’t too pleased.
“After my mom stopped passing out—because she saw me becoming a neurosurgeon in the future—I got my psychology degree,” Coleman says. “I always knew I had an interest in and affinity for people, and I was able to build rapport quickly.” She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Macalester College in 1994, followed by a master’s degree in psychology from the University of Minnesota in 1997.
After working in recruiting at what was then the William Mitchell College of Law for a couple of years, Coleman held people-focused roles at the University of Minnesota for almost a decade, most recently as director of diversity for its business school. In 2005, she earned her doctorate in education policy and administration, also from the University of Minnesota.
Coleman started her career in academia—and could well have ended it there. “I never thought I would leave higher education,” she says. In 2008, when SuperValu, at the time one of the country’s largest grocery retailers, contacted Coleman about an HR role, she thought, “I’m good. I love what I’m doing.”
But Coleman decided she wanted to expand her experience and knowledge. So she made the move into the private sector—first as SuperValu’s manager of diversity recruitment and then as its senior manager of talent acquisition.
History repeated itself a few years later when 3M approached her. Again, Coleman thought, “I’m happy. I have a great team doing amazing things.” But then she considered the opportunity to move from a solely U.S.-focused organization and gain global experience. In 2011, she joined 3M, first in U.S. talent acquisition and, soon afterward, in global talent acquisition.
Linda Johnson, chief human resources and communications officer at grocery retailer Food Lion, vividly remembers that time. As an HR executive at SuperValu, Johnson had to find Coleman’s replacement amid many changes in the company’s talent acquisition function. But Coleman didn’t simply say, “Thank you and goodbye,” Johnson recalls; instead, Coleman helped find her own replacement.
“It was a tough time for us to have to replace her role,” Johnson says, “but we were able to do that efficiently because of her commitment to making sure we had a great candidate slated for her role. And she did that with care and deliberation.”
To Coleman, “Be open” is perhaps the central theme of her career. “If I limited myself to just my knowledge set, I’d still be in a university, because that’s all I thought I’d do, and I was happy to do it,” she explains.