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Cultural Literacy

An Important Skill Set in the Workplace

Carolyn Vanous is a member of the Xperitas Board and currently serves as the Board Treasurer. Carolyn is also the Manager of a team at 3M, a fortune 500 company with corporate operations in 70 countries and sales in 200. We asked Carolyn about her role at 3M, what she looks for in a team member and what advice she has for students interested in a career with a multi-national company.

How long have you worked at 3M?

Carolyn: I have worked at 3M for ten years. Two and a half years of that time was spent in Singapore supporting 3M’s South-East Asia Operations. I was 26 when the opportunity arose to apply for a job with 3M in Singapore and I jumped at it. I saw the chance to challenge myself and live somewhere far from home where I could continue to expand my view of the world. I had studied abroad in the Netherlands in college and have always been eager to experience new cultures. I learned about 3M from a different and unique perspective during my time in Singapore, as I was working outside company headquarters and supporting countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia & Indonesia.

Can you tell us about your work at 3M?

Carolyn: I lead a team at 3M within the Global Strategic Sourcing organization. Our group has teams in 3M offices around the world that work with suppliers to source raw materials & services for 3M manufacturing sites & 3M products. Teams worldwide work together to create a comprehensive strategy and we have suppliers located in every region that support our global operations. In my role, it is important to understand how requirements vary between countries to ensure that products will fit the needs of the end customer.

As a team leader, what do you look for in a Global Strategic Sourcing team member? What characteristics indicate someone will be a successful member of the team?

Carolyn: To be part of the Global Strategic Sourcing organization you must be able to work effectively with colleagues around the world and most team members are very comfortable with international travel. Cultural literacy drives results, as individuals are better able to communicate and work effectively with colleagues & suppliers who speak different languages and may have different cultural customs. In Singapore, I worked on a talented and high performing team comprised of people of seven different nationalities! Working with people from many different cultures also teaches you to engage diverse perspectives and make sure everyone has a voice, which leads to more robust outcomes.

The people who are most successful on our team are those who can communicate effectively with people at all levels of the organization. Being able to tailor a conversation to your audience is very important in achieving success at a multi-national company. This skill can be learned by seeking out diverse perspectives, then being thoughtful about how you communicate and navigate the interaction. This is a skill that gets better with practice and the earlier you start, the easier it is to learn and the more natural it becomes.

What advice would you give to students interested in working at a multi-national company like 3M?

Carolyn: Having global experiences is looked at very highly, so take advantage of any opportunities you have to experience a new culture and get out of your comfort zone. This demonstrates that you can navigate ambiguous situations and increases confidence in your ability to work with people from other countries and on a global team. Study a language; people who are bilingual often have opportunities to partner with international colleagues and work in a different country. Inquisitiveness is another highly valued characteristic; take opportunities to learn about other cultures, seek understanding and be open to new ways of doing things.  

We are grateful to Carolyn for sharing her knowledge and experience here and as a member of the Xperitas board.

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