At the start of 2010, members of IBM’s HR senior leadership team faced a critical juncture in the history of their business and the trajectory of their profession due to the advancement of globalization, the need for businesses to be more flexible and changing attitudes among young people in the work force. In addition, IBM’s upcoming centennial inspired them to envision changes that will come decades from now, to help IBM endure and thrive for another 100 years.
Traditionally, when facing such a strategic opportunity, the HR team would have convened an in-person meeting at headquarters, with top executives, to examine trends, brainstorm ideas and debate the future. But that approach was becoming insufficient for a function that spans the globe, with more than 3,000 HR professionals in the business.
Instead, the leadership team sought a more inclusive venue. Members of their teams proposed an intriguing option: Adapt some of the technologies IBM’s own Learning team uses in its virtual classrooms, combined with IBM’s successful “Jam” technology, and convene a worldwide, virtual dialogue that could touch every HR professional. The result became IBM HR ThinkFuture, a new approach to strategy development that will ultimately shape the next generation of HR innovation at IBM.
Leadership brainstorming sessions, with internal and external thinkers, to shape key themes and trends. Work teams, consisting of professionals from multiple countries, were commissioned to develop details around key themes.
During a 24-hour period in June, workshops were held in four cities—Brussels, Beijing, Bangalore and Yorktown Heights, New York, with each session devoted to a single macro-topic relating to work and the future. Speakers came from academia, business, journalism and other industries, along with thought-leaders from IBM. Nearly 800 people attended the live events, more than 1,000 viewed the live Webcast and another 2,000 watched video replays.
Following the educational deep-dives, ThinkFuture Jam opened a 72-hour virtual dialogue using IBM’s own technology. In addition to the worldwide HR function, IBM executives, including CEO Sam Palmisano, joined the Jam periodically to share ideas about how HR could evolve and post questions of their own. There were nearly 2,700 registered participants for the Jam, generating more than 3,500 posts. Global participants averaged five hours jamming over the three days, with more than 1,800 unique log-ons.
people took part in IBM’s
Results and Outcomes
Data analytics specialists and an IBM-patented analysis tool combed through the Jam data for important themes and ideas. Initial analytics resulted in 95 ideas with 75 percent of team participation coming from outside the U.S.
With results in hand, Randy MacDonald, Senior Vice President, Human Resources, commissioned five teams to explore the most important ideas for possible development and implementation—Innovative Work Force Models, Leadership for the Next Era, Instrumented Work Force, New Approaches to Performance and Recognition, and Measuring Future Greatness. Teams consisted of high-achieving global HR professionals, working together collaboratively with seasoned HR mentors in a dual-purpose process, to both deepen the thinking and develop leadership skills. Teams worked together in September–October 2010, with results presented to IBM leadership in November 2010.
“I see ThinkFuture as a real competitive advantage for the function,” MacDonald said in a post-event interview. He sees these results as the first step in a multi-stage strategic planning and implementation process that will unfold over the next decade.
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