IBM has always been blessed with a rich history of leadership. This is not by chance, but rather the result of an unwavering focus on developing leaders at all levels of our organization. One important aspect of leadership at IBM is constant transformation.
We are challenged by our chairman to “restlessly reinvent,” and we are driven by the awareness that our leaders constantly face new challenges as the world around us changes at an historic pace. Data is becoming the new natural resource. The emergence of cloud is transforming IT and business processes into digital services. Social, mobile, and access to data are changing how individuals are understood and engaged. This confluence of market shifts requires our leaders to think, act, and lead differently; to move faster, accelerate our strategy, and embrace new ways to engage employees and make decisions.
Our leadership development initiatives are changing, too. We are experimenting with creative approaches, moving from single events to experiential journeys, and featuring role models to support our leaders’ transformation.
Our top leaders contribute to the company's growth through several teams that focus on key aspects of our company's success: the Performance Team, the Operations Team, the Client Experience Team, and the overarching Integration and Values Team (I&VT). I&VT develops recommendations to solve enterprise challenges and consists of approximately 300 IBM executives appointed by the chairman and her direct reports annually. Members of I&VT transcend their individual roles and focus on transforming IBM.
In support of their mission, each year a small group of I&VT members are selected to focus on a strategic challenge IBM is facing, providing a tremendous leadership opportunity and allowing these top leaders to grow in their capabilities. Last year, the 10th I&VT, was offered the challenge to eliminate and reinvent for speed and simplicity.
To meet that challenge, we radically transformed the approach for I&VT initiatives. Urged on by the need for speed, we applied “design thinking” as the basis for experimentation, leaning on IBM’s agile method of software development. I&VT 10 brainstormed bold ideas, tried them out, learned, and iterated fast. Each success laid the foundation for bolder actions. I&VT 10 became the first initiative to act as a “do tank” versus a “think tank.” Through this experience, the team engaged employees to help them in their efforts and impacted change throughout several areas of the organization. They became energized and more empowered leaders, inspiring employees and in turn creating more cycles of experimentation and bold actions. “I’m pushing my boundaries and those of my organization,” was a consistent message from participants.
Their experiments pointed out structures and processes in IBM that impeded speed. The group mobilized around four areas for organizational transformation and took action to de-layer and flatten the enterprise. They integrated for greater decision-making and clarity. They made changes to approval processes and daily work habits to give time back to employees so they can focus more on clients. And they highlighted the opportunity to create a new organizational unit.
The organizational changes are perhaps the most expected outcome, however there is an even more profound outcome of the initiative—these senior leaders role-modeled new leadership behaviors: Challenge. Experiment. Disrupt. As they share their experience with IBM at large and inspire all executives to join the movement, they are leading our cultural transformation. [Note: I&VT was renamed the Growth & Transformation Team in 2014.]
The role of an IBM executive is to achieve business results, lead transformation, serve as a client advocate, and engage IBMers in service of our clients. Advancing to an executive role is one of the biggest career transitions an IBMer can make. We view the transition as an 18-month journey and not just a single event. Now, new executives are engaged earlier in the cycle and for longer periods to better enable them for success. Based on input from new executives themselves, we’ve designed a journey that:
The journey begins with high-touch recognition, includes a fast-track 90-day start, brings cohorts together for the AccEL workshop, and establishes a foundation for growth. Following AccEL, the next phase of the journey helps the new executive operate in the role with their cohort and business unit support to grow as a leader.
The program’s design is a radical departure from the past. What had been an agenda dominated by auditorium speakers is now filled with small group activities and discussions led by senior executives. The program focus has expanded from business leadership to include personal-development sessions on topics such as executive resilience and social tools. As a result of the program, 96 percent intended to make specific leadership commitments to their team and 100 percent plan to apply what they learned to their current role.
Though the 18-month journey is in its early days of implementation, survey data suggests we are on track to accomplish our goals. Participants appreciate where they’ve been on their leadership journey and have envisioned where they need to go. Most importantly, they are seizing the opportunity to be transformational leaders in IBM.
The same principles for newly promoted executives have been applied for newly acquired executives. IBM is widely recognized for the pace and success of our acquisitions. This is not by accident. The leadership development team engages with acquisition deal teams throughout the acquisition cycle. We engage with acquired leaders early in the acquisition phase and stay with them through their first two years at IBM. These acquired executives embark on a “managed” journey that helps integrate them into IBM. The journey is supported by a series of leadership interventions, including strategic sessions in which the company works with IBM to align the organization, and Executive Insights, a program they attend within their first year as an IBMer. While acquired executives are already successful executives, often they haven’t operated in a company the size and scale of IBM. The program creates time for them to think about the leadership impact they would like to have within IBM while they explore IBM’s strategy, capabilities, and resources.
The Executive Insights experience is intended to be both a practical and inspiring experience where executives gain a deeper understanding of IBM, a stronger network, and specific actions they will take to make a positive impact on the business and—more importantly—on the IBMers they lead. Following the program, 95 percent of participants have reported an increased sense of affiliation with IBM and 100 percent have said they intend to apply what they learned to their current roles.
IBM has always been proud of our pervasive learning and management culture. Our CEO is personally sponsoring and launching several initiatives to engage all IBMers. Ginni Rometty holds the expectation that all leaders play a primary role in the teaching and development of other leaders, managers, and executives.
One example is the introduction of a Manager Champion Group in 2013. This is an experiential program founded to showcase IBM management at its best, honor the critical role of the IBM manager, and develop leaders to create a culture of exceptional IBMers and client experiences.
A globally diverse team of 50 exemplary IBM managers are nominated and selected for a year-long term of service. Manager champions serve as role models and teachers of IBM values while acting as solution advocates for managerial challenges. This unique leadership development experience is elevating the role of the manager and enhancing manager engagement. In more than 5,000 hours of voluntary service to IBM, manager champions are:
“IBM has always been proud of our pervasive learning and management culture. Our CEO is personally sponsoring and launching several initiatives to engage all IBMers” Reena Jana, executive editor THINK Management, an IBM digital resource with management tips and techniques contributed by managers, for managers
Manager champions with IBM Chairman, President, and CEO Ginni Rometty at a recent summit