Trust Leader: IBM Committed to the Long Term

October 3, 2016

When IBM speakers are introduced we often hear, and “next we will hear from IBM who needs no introduction.” Recently IBM was introduced as “the company that all technology companies want to grow up to be like.” We often hear “no matter how complicated the project is, choose IBM, they can get it done and it will be done right.”

IBM is one of the world’s most trusted brands. We trust companies that are committed to the long term, companies that have a solid track record of success and companies we are familiar with. IBM’s track record is 100 years. Around the world the brand exudes professionalism, confidence, quality, excellence, innovation and commitment. IBM’s commitment shows up in everything it does. 

I recently sat down with one of IBM’s Trust Leaders, Lisa Burke, Vice President GBS Global Delivery Excellence. I will never forget what Lisa said to me the first time I met her: “ I, along with many other executives at IBM are passionate about IBM, because IBM has the ability to change the world.” Lisa went on to say that, “Innovation is core to who we are. We are passionate about learning and innovation.”

I then met John Wheeler, Vice President, IBM Security, another Trust Leader who is passionate about innovation. He shared with me that IBM invests $6.3 billion a year in research and development; has a 23 year track record of patent leadership; and IBM holds the largest patent portfolio of any company in the world. IBM walks the talk on innovation, hands down.

Commitment to Innovation

When I asked for an explanation of how IBM might change the world and it's innovation Lisa discussed IBM's acquisition of the Weather Companies Product & Technology businesses. “It always starts with the client. We want to help clients out-think, forecast and predict behaviors and trends through data and analytics. For example, if we know there will be sun and fine weather on July 4 in the Midwest USA, we can let our retail clients know to move inventory and stock barbeque charcoal and outdoor items to that region of the country. When we listen by analytics we can improve the level of how we service our clients.”

IBM demonstrates its commitment to innovation in its support of the technology industry. In Atlanta, Georgia for example, IBM sponsors technology forums and contests. “We invest significant amounts across the world sponsoring innovation, we build out our ecosystems of suppliers and developers and we do a lot of work in our local communities to sponsor the innovators outside of IBM.”

Consistent Communication & Involvement with Leadership Team

When employees understand the company’s vision, it's priorities and hold common values they are in a strong position to create trust. With between 300,000 and 400,000 employees and operations in over 170 countries, I asked Lisa, ‘How do you keep a culture of innovation and learning front and center? How does the leadership team communicate priorities?’ Lisa discussed ‘Think Academy’ and how they communicate and involve employees in the strategy.
“One way is through ‘Think Academy.’ On a daily basis Think Academy sends us thought provoking information including news items, customer stories, links to videos, and broadcasts from CEO Ginni Rometty. This enables continuous learning. We work at building learning into all of our client solutions. It is also an effective vehicle to keep the fundamental messages in front of people.” 

As Lisa explained, many employees are mobile, they don’t go into an office, there are many different units so sometimes it is difficult to stay involved with their peers. “In Atlanta, we brought our Atlanta based employees together through executive led ‘what, why and how sessions’. We brought people together once a month over a few months to discuss strategy and what does that strategy mean to you in your particular role? We discussed and shared client issues and experiences.”

“We take our promises and commitment to our clients seriously, that is our number one tenant, ” said Lisa Burke. “Everything we do is centered around the client.” For example, “We focus on Agile development and thinking and have agile champions across the company. How do you lower the center of gravity; push decision-making downward; increase speed and agility; simplify complicated things; make things easier for our employees and our clients; and empower employees.”

When employees are empowered to make decisions to do the right thing for the client, trust in the company increases.

Commitment to Excellence, Quality and Delivering on it's Promises

Lisa’s Global Business Services team focuses on supporting IBM teams worldwide in following best delivery practices. “We are committed to ensuring that the right technical expertise and leadership is involved to solve client issues.” They also work with IBM teams and clients around the world “to ensure that IBM is executing from a delivery perspective what it has promised to clients and to the IBM Corporation.” Practically speaking this may involve: deep program reviews and cadences with teams, applying new methodologies or processes, reviewing financial performance, advising teams on leadership and skills changes required, and meeting with clients.

Continuous Transformation, Commitment to Top Talent to Serve Clients

In the last 30 years IBM has gone through multiple transformations. As CEO Ginni Rometty is quoted saying, “When you stop transforming you will die.” As Lisa said, “Technology is changing so rapidly, our clients are having to move at lightening speed. As our clients are shifting we are shifting.” Much has been written about IBM’s track record of successful transformations and it’s ability to help clients transform. In fact in June 2016 it was named one of the world’s top 4 in the list of 100 influential brands in digital transformation. [1]

Part of IBM’s transformation is hiring new skills and new people. In 2015 IBM hired tens of thousands of new employees, which included people from 14 acquisitions. Part of IBM’s brand is to hire top talent and to invest in it’s people. The company invests in it's employees. In some IBM divisions, for example, new employees go through a 2-year orientation and training program. 

IBM’s Trust Brand - Innovation, Growth & Commitment

After 28 years at IBM in various roles, Lisa has a lot of stories, lessons and advice to share. She has lived and worked with IBM in Asia and in North America and has been involved in client projects all over the world. I asked her to tell me about something she is proud of. “When you look at some of the things we do in partnership with our clients, it is hard not to get emotional about the impact of our business at times. To think about what we have done in health care, through our Watson business, as an example, is amazing. Part of what I love about IBM is that we have impacted people’s lives, through changing the way they live. Another example - we have sent teams to Africa to support the development of an effective water treatment system, as an investment in the community, and as an investment in the teams that we send, again changing people’s lives. IBMers have pride in what we do. Yes, it is about returning a profit to our shareholders but there is so much more to IBM quite frankly.” 

IBM’s vision and culture of innovation, growth and commitment are at the centerpiece of it’s trust brand. It is people and leaders like Lisa Burke and John Wheeler that make IBM one of the world’s most trusted brands.