Last year, IBM was named Fortune magazine's top company for leaders. David Williams talks to Sej Butler, IBM's European Recruitment Manager, and to Jean Kerr, Manager, Leadership Development in the UK and member of IBM's Global Leadership Development Organization.
Wednesday, 28 September 2011
Leadership and Development at IBM
Long known as 'the Big Blue', IBM has its origins in supplying the first tabulating and recording machines of the late nineteenth century. It is however its legendary focus on the needs of corporate customers that has kept it at the forefront of both technological change and business innovation for over a century.
Fortune cited these reasons for ranking IBM in first place for global leadership and development. “This technology giant has deep profiles on 60,000 employees in, or who have the potential to be in, leadership roles. Where the average company might offer several hundred employees an international opportunity for two or three years, IBM gives 'mobility assignments' to thousands for three to six months.”
Why are talented people attracted to IBM in the first place?
For Sej Butler, IBM's European Recruitment Manager, the quality of leadership and development at IBM attracts people who are both the most talented and who have the highest expectations of what the company does to nurture them. “We strive to make sure that IBM is seen as the best choice for people with talent to develop themselves and their careers,” he says, “having IBM on your CV not only shows you have worked for a blue-chip company that is a recognised leader in its field, but also that you will have had world-class training and development.”
For Jean Kerr, the essential components of the IBM approach to leadership and development are people management and a competency-led philosophy. “We see the leadership development focus as being fundamentally about people management,” she says. “Even if someone is in a technical role which does not have management responsibility, the chances are that he or she will have to engage with people and informally influence them.”
“The advantage of our competency-based approach is that it is so transparent. The competencies are based on the behaviors shown by our global role-model leaders. What this means is that from the moment someone joins IBM, they know exactly what is expected of them.” In such a large company, is there anything general that can be said about the leadership and development pathway from the most junior level to the most senior?
“At graduate level, whether or not you are hired comes down to demonstrating that you possess the IBM foundation competencies: team-working, leadership, communication, analytical skills and so on,” says Sej Butler. “You can have someone who comes in through graduate entry with a history degree and compare them to someone who had done a three-year computer studies degree with a year out in industry, perhaps even with IBM, and who now has a masters in software development methodology. These two people would go through the same training in their first two years. They will be rotated round a number of different assignments, to find out what kinds of roles really suit them. This is then followed by two years or so working in a regular business area where training is related to the areas that they may ultimately want to develop into.”
The second stage of development is known as Leadership Foundation. This is the first formal contact that the Global Leadership Development Organization has with prospective leaders. The person's manager usually identifies the individual as having leadership potential and supervises a program of work-enabled learning supported by on-line, self-paced learning.
“The work-enabled learning is a very important component,” comments Jean Kerr. “This is something they can do with their own leaders as we find leaders teaching leaders to be a very powerful tool.”
Someone who performs well at Leadership Foundation would then be brought into a program known as Emerging Leaders. Topics are a blend of business acumen – understanding how a company achieves its financial and business growth – and personal skills, such as emotional intelligence, motivating others or team-working.
The next stage is reached when someone takes on their first management role. Known as Basic Blue, it involves an intensive examination of a manager's strengths and weaknesses and a lot of experiential and peer-to-peer training. Once a manager has participated in Basic Blue there are then a range of development programs available which depend on the needs of the individual. At this juncture, those identified as very high potential are likely to be selected out to join the global executive resource talent pool and so become the next generation of IBM executives, but what's important for IBM is that the process is transparent.
“We do put emphasis on individual to manage their own careers,” adds Jean Kerr, “but, likewise, there are very robust structures in place to nurture talent, and it is very clearly mapped out what needs to be delivered to get to the next stage. There is no great mystery in terms of what you need to achieve.”