Few companies are more well known by their initials than IBM. Yet, the company has undertaken so many transformations during its storied journey that International Business Machines is hardly a complete description of what the technology giant offers today. In the past 10 years, the company has intensified its shift into cloud technology, which company president Jim Whitehurst says offers $1 trillion in market opportunities.
So with this focus, IBM’s talent strategies have also evolved to accelerate the performance of its 345,000 employees in 175 countries by creating a more human-centric experience in the workplace. As IBM pledges in its 2020 annual report: “We will make every effort to address employee demands for empathy, transparency and social responsibility in a new era of activism.”
building transparency and trust
The strategy couldn’t have been more timely with the arrival of the pandemic, which has disrupted the global workforce and led to the Great Resignation and Great Enlightenment. At a time when people need empathy and support from their employers, IBM’s strategy is exactly what its talent required to thrive, even as uncertainty swirled around them. By continuously elevating its talent experience, the company has assured better engagement and a more attractive employer brand.
According to Randstad Sourceright’s 2022 Talent Trends research, about half of human capital and C-suite leaders surveyed are creating more transparency around workplace culture, the recruitment process and career advancement potential to deliver a better talent experience. Just as many say they are implementing change management and knowledge sharing as measures in support of this goal. Clearly, the mission of HR has shifted from processes to people.
“It’s about transparency and trust. It’s about human centricity,” says Marjolein van Eck, the company’s CHRO for Northern Europe who is responsible for a region that includes seven countries.
Just as the pandemic has sped up digitalization in the global economy, it has had the same effect on IBM’s people management, she points out. Investing broadly in AI and the cloud has included an acceleration in corporate empathy, people development and shifts in leadership agenda.
a tech and touch development strategy
As a leader in innovation, the company is using AI to empower its people to upskill themselves, according to van Eck. She pointed out that the company has developed tools that will help workers create more value in themselves and for the company — all through a consumer-like interface.
For instance, automated career advice tooling assesses an employee’s skill set and recommends training and development. These courses are then tailored to an individual’s needs by recommending the modules best suited for their future needs. Think of it as Netflix for people development.
“You combine this with analytics and it can be a powerful tool for personalized learning,” she adds.
This human-centric approach is just one example of how the company is creating greater connectivity, engagement and satisfaction for its workforce, van Eck says. IBM is also focused on developing leaders and training them to be more empathetic and authentic with an emphasis on well-being and talent care. She says this is in response to shifting expectations from the workforce after coping with the added stress and threats from COVID-19. Leaders at the company are naturally adept with technical knowledge, so helping them grow as better people managers has become more of a priority in recent years.
The hurdles for the region she oversees are particularly challenging. Because this geography comprises seven disparate and distinct countries, more efficient coordination and collaboration are needed to connect and orchestrate the work performed here. As HR leaders know, complying with local labor regulations can be complex, but multiply that by seven and it can be overwhelming. Even so, van Eck is focused on developing agile leaders, enhancing HR’s capabilities to facilitate learning and development, and sharing knowledge — the bedrock of IBM’s business.
COVID-19 hasn’t made it easy since the company had to quickly adapt to new ways of working and interacting with employees and clients. In one way, however, there is a silver lining in the pandemic, she adds. Because it changed the views and expectations of the global workforce, employers like IBM had to bring their human-centric approach to maturity more quickly: “If we hadn't had the pandemic, we would still be challenged to think differently on how to manage in such a way.”
measures that expand the talent pool
As a result of the company’s talent strategy shift, IBM is better positioned than ever to attract and hire the top-quality talent it needs to thrive in AI and cloud development. The company has made changes to open up access to talent around the world, including consideration of borderless talent, doing away with educational requirements for technical and other roles, and ensuring that measures are in place to eliminate bias at every step in the candidate journey to encourage diverse applicants to pursue careers at IBM.
With talent scarcity an immense challenge for all tech giants, IBM must stay ahead of the expectations and needs of all talent including current talent and job applicants, van Eck stresses. And it must do so in an ever-dynamic world of work.
“Change is faster than ever. We need to hire at such a pace. Everyone is thinking about the entire talent life cycle, looking at culture, employer brand and many other factors. Talent today has more choices and a huge number of opportunities,” she says. “It’s all about providing them purpose, flexibility and the right work arrangements. If you get that right, you’ll stay ahead of competitors. If you are wrong, you’ll fall behind.”