IBM: Forward Looking Insight Integrating a Strategic Priority into Learning

Duke CE and IBM Work Together to Enable a New Profession
by Jane Sommers-Kelly and Suzanne DeWitt

In May 2008, IBM brought together three global organizations – Marketing, Communications and Corporate Social Responsibility – leading to a fundamental shift in job roles. “It has put us together to create something new, something that our company – and perhaps every company – needs, because the world in which we operate has changed,” said Senior Vice President Jon Iwata.

The newly formed team was challenged with developing education and talent programs needed to support this new profession. Much more than pulling together the existing learning assets from the three separate organizations, this required a redesign of the existing disciplines, job roles and required skills before the appropriate learning and development (L&D) plan could be built.

The IBM Talent and Learning (T&L) team approached this by defining what was required of a “T-shaped professional”: someone who can both “go deep” in his or her respective job role but can also “go wide” across the full spectrum of the group in order to make key strategic decisions. Internal IBM subject matter experts defined what it meant to “go deep” in each discipline, and IBM turned to Duke CE, its established L&D partner, for help in defining new education to help professionals “go wide,” focused on the more strategic topics required for leadership within the profession.

Duke CE made it a priority to listen and understand the company strategy while it worked with IBM to create a solution that matched its needs, culture and budget.

Introduced by IBM Chairman and CEO Sam Palmisano in 2008, the current leadership agenda of “A Smarter Planet” centers on making the world smarter – more instrumented, interconnected and intelligent. Driven by this strategic focus, Duke CE created a four-hour Metaphoric Experience™ – Dubai Municipal Marketplace – that took the participant out of his familiar environment, forcing him to experiment with new perspectives in an unfamiliar but compelling context.

Participants worked in teams and presented Smarter Planet recommendations to a client, in this case the CIO of Dubai. Using this method, participants dove deep into specific examples of the potential impact of IBM solutions on various city systems, be it in using analytics software to predict water shortages or linking consumers with electricity grids’ supply and costing information to reduce consumers’ energy consumption.

The desired impact of the program was for IBM’s Marketing and Communications professionals to think more systemically about the world around them and the challenges facing IBM clients – connecting dependencies and consequences across functions and systems.  Only by anticipating changing market dynamics and translating those into terms that are relevant to clients, can IBM professionals develop programs that resonate in the market.

IBM asked Duke CE to deliver the program immediately virtually, which Duke CE did within four months of first meeting, to a group of 22 hi-potential employees from different geographic regions. The virtual delivery included recorded thought leader classes and live webinars. Additional deliveries were face-to-face in IBM’s three main geographic regions, hosted at IBM venues in Madrid, Singapore and Research Triangle Park, NC, USA. Each delivery was adapted by geography to customize to regional client preferences.

In addition to favorable evaluations upon program completion, Duke CE and IBM can measure impact through an unexpected source: unsolicited demand for the program to be run again. An executive and participant involved in the first four offerings of the Forward Looking Insights course found the Dubai Municipal Marketplace so compelling that she asked Duke CE to redesign and deliver it to 300 of IBM India’s CIO clients. In these six client deliveries, the experience engaged these clients not only in Smarter Planet solutions but also the results of a global CIO survey IBM wanted to share. IBM said they were particularly pleased with the deliveries, as more than half of the clients submitted a “free ticket” request for further consultation with IBM on Smarter Planet solutions.

Jane Sommers-Kelly is a managing director at Duke CE. Suzanne DeWitt is a program director at IBM.