Business Challenge

ArcBest’s values-driven culture has been key to its success—and to find and develop its future leaders to carry this forward, it aimed to identify the factors that made its top performers so special.


ArcBest integrated IBM Watson Talent Frameworks with its Cornerstone human capital management solutions—helping it capture the full range of requirements to excel in its leadership roles.



employees develop key leadership skills


employee engagement, contributing to higher performance


savings predicted by avoiding recruitment costs

Business challenge story

Building a strong bench of future talent

When someone goes out of their way to help you, it’s an experience you don’t forget in a hurry. Finding a way to say yes to customers has been key to ArcBest’s success in North America’s competitive shipping and logistics space. As many of its managers neared retirement age, the company needed to develop a new generation of leaders to carry forward its values-driven culture.

Kellie Black, Manager of Organizational Effectiveness at ArcBest, begins: “We’ve developed a strong reputation for treating the customer right—and our skilled talent and values-driven culture play a crucial role in enabling and spreading that ethos. Because of our unique culture and business model, the onboarding time for an external candidate can be significant. For that reason, we aim to recruit great culture fits and to develop and promote talent internally.”

ArcBest knew that it would soon need new operational leaders across its more than 250 locations in North America. To help build a strong bench of future leadership talent, the company placed a strong focus on performance management, succession management, and leadership development.

“We wanted to look at more than just the skills required to succeed in a role,” says Black. “We knew that it was equally important to understand the specific competencies and behaviors that made our existing leaders top performers in their jobs.”

To manage the talent lifecycle from hiring to retiring, ArcBest relies on Cornerstone’s enterprise-class solutions for learning, succession and performance management. To enable its future-looking performance management strategy, the company wanted to add role-specific competencies.

“In the past, our field managers used generic performance review documents. This made it extremely difficult for them to identify the role-specific skills that employees needed if they wanted to progress to a leadership position, and to provide the coaching they needed to get there,” comments Black. “To help our managers to have those conversations in a consistent way across the organization, we looked for a partner to support us in achieving our goal.”

IBM Watson Talent Frameworks is helping us define the role-specific culture and competencies that leaders need to thrive at ArcBest.

Kellie Black, Manager of Organizational Effectiveness, ArcBest

Transformation story

Gaining deeper insights into the skills for success

ArcBest selected IBM Watson Talent Frameworks—a library of industry-specific job profiles that helps enterprises define, develop and hire people with the necessary skills for success. Based on 30 years of industry research, the solution outlines responsibilities, competencies and functional and technical skills, as well as suggested interview questions and coaching tips for managers.

The company started with a pilot project in which its regional vice presidents—responsible for more than 9,000 employees—would coach its field leaders. Working with Cornerstone, ArcBest met with its leaders to uncover the skills, competencies, and behaviors that made them top performers in their roles, and then customized the descriptions for the roles in IBM Watson Talent Frameworks.

Black comments: “Working with the IBM and Cornerstone teams has been a great experience from the outset. By adopting a train-the-trainer approach, we quickly disseminated knowledge on IBM’s best practices around meeting with subject-matter experts and capturing their insights in IBM Watson Talent Frameworks. By the time we reached the end of our pilot, we were practically self-sufficient in the solution, and ready to hit the ground running.”

Today, the company is in the process of defining proficiency levels for each of its leadership roles, with behavior statements and expectations for each stage. ArcBest is also categorizing its jobs into families, and mapping out linear progressions from entry-level leadership roles to more senior positions.

“Our new approach to performance management is making it easier for our managers and our employees alike to understand the skills they need to move from an individual contributor to a leadership role,” adds Black. “Better still, our people can work on their personal learning and career development items in our Cornerstone online training portal, which means it’s easier than ever for them to cultivate the skills and behaviors needed to achieve their career goals.”

As it works team-by-team to build customized job profiles, ArcBest is revealing the current and future requirements for roles across the business.

“We’re asking our leaders: ‘what do you think you need to be a rockstar in this role?’,” says Black. “This process is helping our top talent put names to skills they know are critical, but couldn’t quite put their finger on before. Gaining these insights is especially important for areas of the organization that are changing rapidly to meet customer demands. IBM Watson Talent Frameworks enables us to ensure that our descriptions reflect the requirements accurately, and helps us keep them up to date as they evolve.”

Our new approach to performance management is making it easier for our managers and our employees alike to understand the skills they need to move from an individual contributor to a leadership role.

Kellie Black, Manager of Organizational Effectiveness, ArcBest

Results story

Ready for the future

With IBM Watson Talent Frameworks supporting its performance management strategy, ArcBest is nurturing a new generation of leaders.

“After we’ve worked with a group of managers and their team members to capture their insights in IBM Watson Talent Frameworks, we train them to use the solution to drive more valuable conversations,” explains Black. “Today, all leaders in our project scope are using the platform to support performance reviews and deliver more targeted coaching to frontline sales employees. The solution empowers our employees to talk about themselves as a whole person—not just in terms of their numbers and targets. It also enables us to set consistent, high-quality standards for coaching, which include level-setting conversations with their managers about where they are in their careers today, and where they want to be in a year’s time.”

Although its journey with IBM Watson Talent Frameworks is just beginning, ArcBest is already measuring positive results. The company recently completed an employee pulse survey that included the members of its pilot project and a control group that was not using the IBM platform. The survey included 15 questions on topics such as engagement, management and supervision effectiveness, communication and culture.

“We saw significant improvements in 11 out of the 15 questions in our pilot group compared to our control group, the most significant of which was: ‘I am an active participant in my performance evaluation’,” says Black. “We know that engaged employees are more likely to go the extra mile for our customers, and we’re extremely happy with our achievements so far. Most importantly, our employees are happy too—we maintained an industry-leading retention rate across the organization this year.”

Over the next two years, ArcBest plans to roll out its new performance reviews to every employee in the business. Black concludes: “IBM Watson Talent Frameworks is helping us define the role-specific culture and competencies that leaders need to thrive at ArcBest—and based on our successes so far, our goal is to map out a clear path for our people to attain the highest leadership roles in the business.”

ArcBest logo


Headquartered in Fort Smith, Arkansas, ArcBest delivers integrated logistics solutions for a variety of supply chain challenges. Founded in 1923, ArcBest is a multibillion-dollar company with offerings including less-than-truckload freight, ground expedite, household moving and vehicle maintenance and repair. In 2018, ArcBest received the Cornerstone OnDemand RAVE Award in the category of Visionary in Performance Management.

Solution components

Take the next step

To learn more about IBM Watson Talent Frameworks, please contact your IBM representative or IBM Business Partner, or visit the following website:

Cornerstone OnDemand (NASDAQ: CSOD) is a global leader in cloud-based learning and human capital management software. The company’s solutions help organizations to realize the potential of the modern workforce. From recruitment, onboarding, training and collaboration, to performance management, compensation, succession planning, people administration and analytics, Cornerstone is designed to enable a lifetime of learning and development that is fundamental to the growth of employees and organizations. To learn more about Cornerstone, visit:  

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