Insight article

IBM’s big idea

IBM recently asked their staff, and those of their major clients, to pitch ideas via a secure website about what the company should be doing. Within three days they had 37,000 responses.

This mass focus group of employees was all about active participation (and involving their major clients – who provide a very good steer on what customers want from IBM – was a great idea). It’s testament to the fact that employees and customers have an enormous collective wisdom and experience which is far far greater than that of any single management team.

We have long believed that collaboration, brainstorming, participation, group discussions and dialogue not only empowers and engages employees, but creates a massive energy within the organisation which, managed and channelled carefully can result in innovation, knowledge-sharing, learning, engagement and ultimately better performance. Of course we add storytelling to the mix, but a major part of our programme – and the bit that starts to generate real value – comes when teams gather together to discuss the different strategic priorities in the company’s story, the role they’ll play, and the action they need to take.

IBM is serious about this approach. In Trevor Davis and Ian Bradbury’s essay in this month’s Management Today (IBM Global Business Services), they talk about the importance of “adopting a collaborative, collegiate and team-oriented approach that still leaves room for rewarding individual contributions to innovation”. And their final message rings clearly: “It’s tempting to think that innovation is someone else’s job, perhaps a task belonging to the R&D team or the marketing department. In IBM, we believe that although innovation needs orchestration from the top, everyone should be encouraged to think broadly, act personally, and contribute to the innovation mix.”

Nailia Tasseel