How IBM Stays Competitive with a Smarter Workforce

Ted Hoff, vice president for the Center for Learning and Development at IBM, shares how the global technology firm enables employees to get smarter faster.

With employees in 170 countries, IBM operates in a complex global business environment that makes individual connection difficult. Despite that challenge, the company’s learning organization makes it a priority to individually know each of the company’s 400,000 employees in order to drive higher performance.

“The world is changing rapidly [and] people need to be smarter, faster,” said Ted Hoff, vice president of the IBM Center for Learning and Development. “[The way we] gain a competitive advantage is by tapping skills throughout the world … we need people around the world to be skilled to serve clients.”

Hoff outlined the steps IBM takes to create a smarter, more competitive workforce during a morning keynote address at the Fall 2009 Chief Learning Officer Symposium. The fall symposium, taking place this week at the Broadmoor resort in Colorado Springs, Colo., brought together nearly 400 attendees for a three-day conference built around the theme “Peak Performance: Pushing Your Organization to the Top.”

To create a globally integrated enterprise capable of delivering higher performance, IBM strives to develop a fully enabled workforce that is effectively led, insightful of client needs and on the cutting edge of innovation.

“The level of skill to develop is no easy task,” he said. “You can’t develop people just with training in the classroom.”

Hoff outlined some of the programs IBM uses to develop the leaders the company needs to lead into the future. The IBM Corporate Service Corps, for example, consists of 300 high potential leaders from 44 countries who dedicate time and resources to community service programs in developing countries.

“They need to have the experience to have the depth of capability we’re looking for,” Hoff said.

IBM Career Smart, the company’s career brand, also had lost focus and company leaders wanted to renew the company’s commitment to being a place where employees could have dynamic careers.

“One major challenge the company faced about a decade ago was that career opportunities had become vague and complicated; it wasn’t clear to IBMers how they could move forward within the company,” Hoff said. “People need to understand when jobs are opening up and what skills and capabilities are needed.”

As part of the commitment to creating a smarter workforce, the company uses assessments to determine employee capability and connect them with appropriate development opportunities and projects.

“We are helping people [determine] what they need to do and how to develop themselves,” Hoff said.

Delivering learning and development to IBM’s 400,000 employees is a daunting task, but Hoff said he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“This is the place I want to be,” he said.