Business challenge

How could IBM keep employees engaged and focused on the company’s evolving business objectives if managers only reviewed their performance and goals twice a year?


IBM is transforming its traditional performance management approach with an innovative solution that fosters continuous interaction and feedback between managers and team members.



employee engagement through a steady stream of continuous feedback and coaching


IBMers to create, edit, and refine goals at any time throughout the year


team members to improve by giving them greater control over goals

Business challenge story

Keeping employees engaged

IBM today is much more than a hardware, software and services company; IBM is a cognitive solutions and cloud platform company, with a focus on industry capabilities and expertise.Michelle Rzepnicki, Director of Performance Management at IBM, begins: “Over its 100-year history, IBM has reinvented itself many times over to ensure that it is always at the leading edge of technology and can meet clients’ changing business needs.“Just as our business model is constantly evolving, the way that people work is changing rapidly, too. Our workforce is more mobile than ever before, and employees are working in a much more iterative, agile way.”IBM recognized that effectively managing employee performance in the cognitive and cloud era required a similarly versatile approach.“Our existing approach to performance management simply didn’t support our new ways of working,” continues Michelle Rzepnicki. “Managers typically only met with employees twice a year to discuss goals and business objectives. As a result, objectives tended to stay fairly rigid, even though our business needs and priorities constantly evolve.“To help each and every IBMer perform at their best, we wanted to shape a more flexible, collaborative approach to performance management that encouraged employees to be more actively engaged.”

By establishing a culture of continuous dialogue with our employees, we are better able to meet our business goals as IBM continues to evolve.

—Michelle Rzepnicki, Director of Performance Management, IBM

Transformation story

Giving employees a louder voice

Keen to engage employees at every step along the way, IBM took a collaborative approach to transforming its performance management process. Michelle Rzepnicki recalls: “We didn’t want to just introduce new tools and processes—we wanted to design a performance management experience that truly connected with our new ways of working. We decided to take a very iterative design approach to make sure that we really understood what would meet the needs of our employees. The key elements of this approach were the IBM Design Thinking methodology and a company-wide social dialogue to engage IBMers in the design process.” The HR team maintained close engagement with employees throughout the project, taking a deliberately agile approach, as opposed to a traditional waterfall design and development process. “At the heart of the IBM Design Thinking methodology is listening,” says Michelle Rzepnicki. “We weren’t just designing a performance management tool, but the processes and culture surrounding it. In order to shape an experience that would meet the needs of our workforce, it was very important to gather their feedback at every step in the journey. In the end, we wanted IBMers to be co-creators of this experience rather than consumers.” The HR team ran the company-wide social dialogue over a two-week period using the IBM® Connections™ business social network platform. During that time, it received tens of thousands of responses from IBMers. Michelle Rzepnicki recalls: “We worked closely with employees to exchange feedback, iterate on the overall user experience, and refine the design. For example, we showed playbacks of the prototype experience we were designing and we even opened up a test environment so that anybody who wanted to could try it out. The feedback we received was invaluable in helping us to refine and enhance the new approach. And, the workforce dialogue has continued beyond the launch of the new approach. We’re still gathering feedback and making adjustments to the experience today.” The result? IBM rolled out IBM Checkpoint—a performance management platform based on the SAP® SuccessFactors® Performance & Goals software cloud-based application—to its global workforce of more than 380,000 people in 175 countries. The HR team turned to its implementation partner, the IBM Services group, to help address user feedback and incorporate it into the SAP SuccessFactors configuration. Michelle Rzepnicki states: “The IBM Services team played a significant role throughout the project—they worked closely with us on three different iterations of the tool to ensure that it could support the experience we were designing. Their input was valuable and they worked hard to ensure that the technology met user expectations.” She recalls: “We decided to deploy the SAP SuccessFactors Performance & Goals software as the foundation for our new employee experience because it is the industry-leading solution for performance management. SAP SuccessFactors Performance & Goals could handle the iterative and agile design and development approach we wanted to take. We were able to adapt the solution as our design evolved, and we were able to deploy the solution to our global workforce on a single day.” Michelle Rzepnicki remarks: “We received in-depth consulting from the IBM Services team on topics such as leadership alignment and change management. Their support was valuable and helped us to make this major organizational change a success. In the lead-up to the global rollout, we had weekly leadership alignment sessions to ensure the organization was ready and that the discovery experience for the workforce would be seamless and engaging.” After deploying the SAP SuccessFactors Performance & Goals software, the IBM Services team continued working with a core ‘champion group’ to tailor the IBM Checkpoint solution even further. Based on user feedback, an IBM Checkpoint landing page using the IBM Bluemix® cloud platform was built to make it easy and straightforward for users to log in to IBM Checkpoint, while also providing useful tips and tricks on how to use the solution. IBM also utilizes IBM WebSphere® Cast Iron® Hypervisor to provide the hybrid integration between its on-premise legacy HR applications and the IBM Checkpoint application. By synchronizing daily data input and output between the systems, IBM can be sure that the latest employee information is available in IBM Checkpoint for the best user experience, while ensuring that the backend databases stay up to date. Michelle Rzepnicki summarizes: “Ours was a unique design approach, where our design was evolving at the same time we were configuring the tool. The IBM Services team was extremely creative and responsive in helping us to create the experience we envisioned, rather than having our experience defined by the underlying tool requirements.”  

Results story

Putting IBMers in control

Today, IBMers around the world have access to IBM Checkpoint and can create, edit, and refine goals at any time throughout the year.“The response to the new performance management experience has been incredibly positive,” says Michelle Rzepnicki. “Hundreds of thousands of IBMers all across the company are using IBM Checkpoint to take a more active role with their goals and feedback.”In the past, managers and employees met twice a year to review performance and discuss goal setting. IBM Checkpoint supports a much more continuous way of giving and receiving feedback, ensuring that managers and employees interact and engage with each other at regular intervals throughout the year.Michelle Rzepnicki remarks: “Ongoing feedback and a continuous dialogue gives managers deeper, more meaningful insight into employees’ work and ensures alignment. This insight helps managers to engage employees much more effectively, helping to drive performance and boost business results. What’s more, we’ve found that this style of performance management better suits the latest generation of employees.”In addition, IBM redesigned its goal process. Michelle Rzepnicki notes: “Instead of setting big goals for 12 months at a time, employees now set themselves shorter-term goals every three to five months—while still keeping long-term aspirations on the horizon. This means that, as IBMers check off smaller goals throughout the year, they are much better able—and more motivated—to stay on track to achieving their bigger objectives. Managers are also able to provide regular feedback throughout the year, encouraging employees to achieve their goals.“With IBM Checkpoint, there is much more frequent interaction between managers and employees. As well as receiving feedback, IBMers are encouraged to give their own feedback in return. This means that there is a much deeper level of interaction, communication and connection between senior and junior staff. What’s really great to see is that they’re not just exchanging feedback and reviewing performance—they’re getting together to discuss goals and to make sure that these goals are aligned with our business objectives.”She adds: “Engaged, motivated employees are much more driven to succeed and therefore provide a much better service to clients—giving business results an additional boost.”IBM also launched Checkpoint Bob, a chatbot prototype built with IBM Watson™ Conversation cognitive technology on IBM Bluemix, to help IBMers get answers to their Checkpoint questions quickly.She concludes: “Our new approach to performance management is empowering employees. They’re in control of establishing goals and, by giving them more regular feedback and coaching, they’re able to continuously improve and succeed. By establishing a culture of continuous dialogue with our employees, we’re better able to meet our wider business goals as IBM continues to evolve.”

About IBM

IBM has a history of continuous re-invention, transforming itself throughout its 100-plus year history. In the past five decades alone, IBM has ushered in the eras of the mainframe, the personal computer, IT services and enterprise software. In its current transformation, IBM is once again leading the reordering of the technology industry. As a globally integrated enterprise, the company operates in more than 175 countries and is continuing to shift its business to the higher value segments of enterprise IT. There are approximately 380,000 employees.

Solution components

  • IBM Global Business Services
  • IBM-SAP Alliance
  • SAP SuccessFactors
  • WebSphere Cast Iron Hypervisor Edition Standard
  • WebSphere Hypervisor Edition Family