Inside IBM: Company Opens its Doors on Winning Talent Strategy

The cost of not offering work-life balance.
There are those who might think foregoing work/life strategies will save an organization money.

But IBM Human Resources Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer Lindsay-Rae McIntyre has a different take. She says neglecting such strategies can cost an organization more.

The economy's improving and the hunt for the best people is on. So companies without a solid talent strategy risk falling behind.

"It's important for leaders to understand that our Millennials have so many choices," she said recently. To secure the best talent, you have to provide them a compelling reason to stay.

Solid Talent Strategy in the Modern Era

The insight came during this week's Bright Horizons' webinar, Inside IBM's Winning People Strategy, an hour in which Lindsay-Rae and IBM Vice President of People Strategy and Talent Management Deborah Butters shared their organization's strategies for staying ahead in today's evolving employment space.

Technology and generational shifts are changing the way people work, said Deborah. So you need to be able to figure out a people strategy that will accommodate that transition.

A few key takeaways:

Know Your People

Understanding what your talent is looking for requires asking. For quick and immediate feedback, IBM likes what they call mini-pulse surveys to get fast reads on programs.

Be Dynamic

In what's called a "fail-fast environment," IBM has found the nimbleness to explore and try new things. Be bold enough to experiment to see if something works, said Lindsay-Rae, and get rid of things that don't.


Source experts to get services you need. "We are not in the child care business," said Lindsay-Rae. "By partnering with folks like you [Bright Horizons], we provide the very best to employees without having to create it ourselves."

Supporting Business Culture in a Constantly Changing Environment

Moving with the times is something IBM is familiar with.

The company's been around for more than a hundred years, going from punch cards to Selectric Typewriters to the Jeopardy-playing Watson. Technologically those are huge leaps; but sociologically, they're astronomical. Suffice it today's smartphone-carrying Millennials look nothing like the top-hat clad employee of IBM's birth year. They might as well be from different planets. That IBM has navigated both eras - not to mention disco in between - is no small accomplishment.

And it hasn't been by chance. That kind of adaptation comes from planning and forward thinking. Stretch back into late last century and you'll see the progressive IBM was a groundbreaker in business culture, and among the first companies to recognize the number of women in their workplace by offering employees child care.

Winning Talent Strategy and The High Cost of Doing Nothing

What they've learned is that successfully supporting people isn't a straight shot - it's more a pivot and roll. People change in surprising ways. Need an example? Working at home seems to be the desired perk du jour. But Linsday-Rae said they're seeing the twist of employees who are hungry for connectedness.

"We're finding the Millennial generation do want to come together," she said. "So things are moving ahead in slightly different ways than we would have expected."

Getting that intel requires employers to ask - and keep asking for employee information.

It also requires working within the realities of today's employees, and knowing that people aren't necessarily planning career tracks they'll stay on for 40 years. So preserving a company's employer brand is as much about the experience people have when they're at the company as the experience they take with them when they leave.

That philosophy - what IBM calls the Talent Eco-system - is one of the company's Five Elements of Successful Transformation. Bringing in leadership is another.

That last one - bringing leadership on board with your talent strategy - is key. Asked how to do that, Lindsay-Rae reiterates her original point.

"You have to consider," she says, "what the cost is of not doing it."

Missed the webinar? Check out our full video replay and download the slides.
The cost of not offering work-life balance.

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