3 HR practices that IBM relies on for constant growth

Nickle LaMoreaux, named this week to HRE’s Top 100 HR Tech Influencers list, describes herself as the “quintessential” IBMer. She started with the company more than 20 years ago as a recruiting and talent manager, based in North Carolina. She’s since held 10 different titles, with successively growing responsibilities, including in New York and around the globe. Her focuses have shifted from learning to global business services delivery to compensation and benefits. And last year, she took on her biggest role yet: CHRO, overseeing all HR activities for the more than 350,000 employees across 170 countries.

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Despite the disruption of the pandemic, the organization has continued to invest in similar upward momentum over the last year, hiring 30,000 new employees.

LaMoreaux, who recently sat down with Workhuman CEO Eric Mosley during Workhuman Live, said the company has found HR success through the COVID-19 challenges in part by adhering to the words of one of the company’s founders, Thomas Watson, Jr.: “In order for a business to meet the challenges of the ever-changing world, it’s got to constantly reinvent itself–everything but its beliefs.”

IBM CHRO Nickle LaMoreaux

“You have to stay true to who you are,” both as an organization and as individuals, LaMoreaux said, “but also be constantly growing.”

IBM has sought to walk that line in a number of ways throughout the pandemic:

Culture transformation

IBM’s culture is built on four pillars, LaMoreaux said: growth, innovation, inclusivity and feedback. While the first three may be expected, she said, the last is less common–but actually fosters the first pillars.

“You can’t have those three elements without feedback and transparency being core to who you are as a company,” she said.

In terms of soliciting feedback, IBM does the “standard things” to keep its finger on the pulse of the company culture but also relies on AI-powered tools to monitor employee experience, from onboarding to offboarding. “From that,” she said, “we’re getting a really good sense of what’s working and when we’re living up to our cultural aspirations–and when we’re not.”

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Culture isn’t just evident at company headquarters, she added, but rather evinces itself in cafeteria run-ins or, as is the case over the past year, how employees interact with and support one another remotely–which highlights the expansive task of measuring and maintaining culture that faces HR leaders. IBM, which recently welcomed a new CEO, also recently created a new position to manage that task: senior vice president of transformation and culture. Bringing the two concepts together in the title of the role, LaMoreaux said, reflects the company’s belief that “you can’t have one without the other.”

See also: IBM offers best practices for managers during the COVID-19 crisis

Reimagining work design

While many organizations are rightfully reexamining where work should get done–at home, in the office, in a hybrid setup–IBM is also focused on how work is going to get done after the pandemic.

As an example, LaMoreaux pointed to a standard sales team cadence call–many of which have shifted to virtual settings this year.

“If you really unpack what happens when in a cadence call–a status update, how to get numbers back on track or keep it going and then a lot of problem-solving for specific clients–and you think about those three pieces of work all happening in one meeting, what you might find that it’s not about, ‘Should the meeting take place in the office or outside of the office?’ but it might be all of the above,” she said. “That’s what happens when you start deconstructing into work design.”

Workhuman CEO Eric Mosley

“[The structure of such cadence calls were] patterns facilitated by physical reality and, if that’s not true anymore,” added Mosley, “we really need to look at the patterns from the ground-up.”

Companies largely hadn’t approached work in that way before the pandemic but, LaMoreaux said, it’s now an imperative. “Or else, reentry will just be kind of going back to the future versus really pushing us forward.”

Leading on DE&I

While IBM has long been an industry leader on diversity, equity and inclusion, LaMoreaux said, there’s still plenty of work to do, which the company has continued to focus on through the pandemic.

“We’re not nearly where we want to be,” she said. One area where IBM has been focusing its attention is on identifying skills it needs from future talent, de-emphasizing college degrees and instead prioritizing certain capabilities.

Related: Employees are craving support for skills growth; here’s how to help

In fact, half of IBM jobs in the U.S. do not require a college education.

“As long as people have the right skills–regardless of how they got them–it’s important they also have access to jobs,” she said. “By opening the aperture, we’re making it possible for a much more diverse set of future IBMers.”

It’s also leveraging AI in the area of DE&I, using the technology to root out pay inequities and to analyze candidates for job selections, promotions, recognition and even participation in learning events. The company is also focused on making sure underrepresented groups have pathways to senior leadership roles.

“You can’t be what you can’t see,” LaMoreaux said.

Looking ahead, IBM is now in the process of marrying people strategies that were successful before the pandemic with those that have developed since.

“How do you bring those things together and really think about the future of work and the future of your business in a post-pandemic world?” she posed. “I really think it’s about taking the best of both worlds from your experiences and building on them.”

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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected].