Accessible, Approachable Leadership

Six Ways IBM’s Leaders Engage and Empower Employees

By | 5 minute read | September 13, 2022

What makes a great leader?

Millennial and Gen Z employees entering today’s workforce expect leaders who encourage collaboration, trust them to work independently, and impart a clear sense of purpose and vision. Yesterday’s hierarchical leadership structure – with control confined to the top tier – is a thing of the past.

Today’s leaders must be authentic, approachable, trustworthy, and motivating. From a company standpoint, they should know how to attract and retain top talent by creating an environment that empowers and engages employees.

IBM Consulting works with public sector clients to find solutions to the complex problems that affect the lives of Canadians. With a leadership style focused on results rather than control, IBM’s leaders foster an honest, inclusive, and authentic environment with our delivery teams – because we believe that when our people understand the purpose of their work and how they fit into the big picture, they become personally invested in the project’s success. Good outcomes are all but guaranteed.

People who feel heard and respected by their leaders tend to be more productive, engaged and loyal. Let’s take a look at six ways IBM’s leadership demonstrates these qualities:


1. Accessible and approachable

IBM leaders are breaking down hierarchical structures by being accessible and approachable. This includes scheduling regular meeting times with employees and being approachable on Slack and in person. Listening to others and being transparent are also important to IBM leadership.

Below are some of the forums IBM’s leaders use to connect with the team:

  • The account leadership team has a standing monthly meeting to integrate new team members. This is an opportunity for leaders to introduce themselves on a personal level and get to know more about our new people and their interests. In this meeting, the focus is more on the people than the business.
  • Weekly calls are designed to provide support to our people and the project team.
  • At the All Hands meeting, new team members are welcomed, and promotions celebrated. Specific support streams (functional, technical) share with the team a “day in the life” through personal videos describing what they do and how they contribute to the program.


2. Open spaces, open doors, open conversations

It is a testament to our leadership culture that we have created an open working environment that allows everyone – no matter what their position – to interact, collaborate and engage with colleagues. Our flagship Toronto location at 16 York Street is the new model of the hybrid office, featuring fewer offices and more conference rooms and much more mobile space. The result is camaraderie and collaboration.

Fridays at Riverside” is a time for employees in Ottawa to join the leadership team to explore topics of interest such as women in leadership, navigating the IBM company, and upcoming conferences, all in a relaxed social setting. Post-pandemic, these have switched to Thursday morning gatherings so people can “flex” on Fridays.


3. Recognition from leaders and peers

We all know how motivating recognition can be. That’s why the leadership team at IBM is always looking for ways to celebrate team members for their accomplishments, ideas and initiative. Employees are sometimes introduced to the wider team on All Hands calls, where they share a bit about themselves using video. Leaders also send out emails to announce promotions, awards, and other significant accomplishments. Peers offer their “likes” and congratulations, which is a further boon to the recipient.

Leadership sets the example, but not all recognition comes from a manager. The “shout-out” is a regular agenda item on the All Hands meeting, where the floor is open for peer recognition. Furthermore, each IBMer gets a number of reward points annually to celebrate or thank a colleague.


4. Mentoring is a priority

Mentoring offers an important career development opportunity for IBM employees.  Every employee who expresses interest is assigned a mentor that matches their career aspirations. Acting as a role model, a sounding board, and career guide, a mentor helps mentees succeed by sharing experiences, teaching others what they know, providing support and advice, and helping them gain confidence and competence in the areas that interest them most.

Another mentorship opportunity for entry-level consultants is quarterly Executive Panels where executive guest speakers from across North America share their insights on topics of interest.


5. Trusting employees with significant and complex work

IBM fosters an environment where IBMers build skills, strengthen expertise, and enjoy a rewarding career. Employees are empowered to map out their career path, challenged with growth assignments, and plugged into teams to solve complex, world-class problems. Noteworthy and impactful projects have included helping clients modernize services with state-of-the-art enterprise platforms and accelerate the adoption of Artificial Intelligence to support and augment decision-making processes.


6. Onboarding that welcomes and inspires

IBM Consulting onboards new graduates through the Associates program, a structured, one-year entry-level consulting experience. Each starting consultant is aligned to a practice where they develop core consulting skills and subject matter expertise. Through specialized training, mentoring and on-the-job experience, they are guided by managers, coaches and senior management in creating a career path that suits them best.

To improve employee engagement across the company, IBM Canada offered the Summer Podcast Series: “Invest in Yourself” hosted by a senior partner in IBM Consulting. Designed to help IBM employees live their best life both personally and professionally, the series featured guest speakers from across IBM who explored a different topic during each episode, including:

  • Disconnecting from work
  • Financial health
  • Community health
  • Eminence
  • Coaching and mentoring
  • Storytelling
  • IBM Benefits: Did you know?
  • Creating great habits


Investing in our people

IBM’s leadership empowers and engages employees by providing the growth opportunities and autonomy that give them purpose and fulfillment in their work. By better understanding what employees need, we can attract and keep our talent.

We believe hierarchical structures hinder people from doing their best work. And if they’re not performing as well as they can, they are not solving our client’s problems to the best of their ability.

An open, accessible, approachable leadership makes all the difference. Employees who feel heard, valued, and challenged by their leaders are motivated to do their best work. Just ask our people.

As one Senior IT architect in IBM Consulting Canada said: “I am privileged to be working with such inspiring personalities on a daily basis. Any given day, I will go the extra mile to get work done for them.”


Bilal Abdul-Kader, Project Executive – Hybrid Cloud Management, IBM Canada


Roberto Bernabo, Senior Partner, Canadian Public Sector Leader & Associates Program Executive Sponsor, IBM Canada


Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box (The Arbinger Institute)