case study: employer branding at IBM.

a chance to shape all our futures

IBM technologies are transforming how businesses collaborate, make decisions and interact with their customers. These groundbreaking developments highlight the remarkable capacity for innovation and reinvention of a company that‘s as strong as ever more than a century after it was formed. What‘s the secret to IBM‘s enduring success? “Talent keeps our thinking fresh and so we need to keep our employer brand fresh to attract it. And this pipeline of talent includes both our employees and the partners within our ecosystem,” says Pilar Pons, IBM HR Leader for Spain, Portugal, Greece and Israel. With the Randstad Employer Brand Research showing IBM Spain to be very attractive to the 25-44-year-olds that Ms Pons describes as the  critical point of our talent acquisition strategy”, the company is proving highly effective in sustaining its appeal to millennials. So how does IBM Spain keep its commercial and employer brands so fresh?

In 1981, the launch of the IBM PC not only changed the face of computing, but set off a workplace and wider social revolution. IBM PC became the leading platform bringing computing out of the glasshouse and into daily life, something everyone could have on their desk, and soon after that in their homes. Nearly 40 years on, cognitive computing and analytics tools like IBM Watson are having a comparably revolutionary impact by analyzing high volumes of data more like a human than a computer – understanding natural language, generating hypotheses based on evidence, and learning as they go. The applications range from fine-tuning treatment for hospital patients to enabling marketing teams to pinpoint which markets and individual customers have the most potential. “Through systems like Watson, IBM is helping to usher in a new ‘cognitive era’,” says Ms Pons. “Our systems amplify and  extend human capabilities. We believe the best results stem from combining human expertise and experience with Watson‘s cognitive technology to enable people to make more informed decisions and do their jobs better.”

IBM Spain‘s pioneering contribution includes the world‘s first application of Watson in Spanish and the first IBM Watson cognitive app for tourism in Europe. A leading bank uses the system within its foreign trading activities, answering queries on complex regulations and country-specific questions to provide and enhance client experience. IBM systems are also helping to enhance HR strategies and processes. As an example, Ms Pons cites an app capable of creating a more targeted and time-efficient search and selection process, the original idea for which came from employees taking part in an internal IBM crowdfunding contest. The Watson Talent ‘family’ also includes a range of assessment, feedback and customized learning development tools.

tomorrow, today

One of the key attractions for talent is the opportunity to not only develop the tools and technologies that are reshaping our world, but also road test them through their wide use within the business. “As a leader in artificial intelligence, IBMers are pioneers in a new world of work where humans interact with cognitive systems to enhance their performance. The  objectives aren‘t just to improve productivity or do things faster and more efficiently, but also leverage our ability to learn by pushing us to more ambitious realms of thinking,” says Ms Pons. “Examples include the use of cognitive and analytics technology to share information, find experts and hold meetings in a very intuitive (as it understands natural language), integrated and collaborative way. As our email is cognitive it prioritizes your mails according to your profile. All this is necessary as our teams are multidisciplinary and work in different geographies, schedules and knowledge domains.”

Ms Pons also sees IBM‘s traditions and enduring culture as important elements of its appeal. “Our mission to help companies and society progress through technological innovation has remained unchanged throughout our history. IBM has a clear vocation of service, which gives us great value as a brand,” she says. To gain a better understanding of what target recruits are thinking, IBM maintains a permanent presence within universities, business schools, social campaigns and professional networks. 

Recruitment is built around IBM engagement, screening and selection tools on the one side and face-to-face interviews with HR  professionals and business executives who are trained in the IBM competences model on the other.

The profile of the ideal recruit combines a passion for technology with a personality that reflects the company‘s values. IBM also prizes the resilience, collaboration and  communication skills needed to work in fast-moving multi-disciplinary teams.

making an impact

Once in the company, IBMers are given considerable license to explore their ideas and interests. Examples of the resulting projects include the selection app described earlier. IBMers also have opportunities to make a difference to their communities through such initiatives as Smarter Cities, which looks at ways to use technology to promote economic competitiveness, make more efficient use of resources and improve quality of life. “People know that when they come to work for us, our global reach and commitment to ‘innovation that matters’ mean that they can make an impact. They can contribute to clients‘ success. They can also improve the lives of communities across Spain,” says Ms Pons.

Diversity is central to IBM‘s ambition to foster new ideas and engage with the customers it serves. Early in its history, IBM pioneered recruitment, training and professional networks designed to help attract women and help them develop their careers. “At IBM we think about diversity in the same way as we think about innovation. Both are essential to the success of our business.” says Ms Pons. “Our commitment includes dedicated teams that we‘ve specially set up to identify, attract and develop a diverse workforce. We also invest in raising awareness about diversity within our organization and enabling our leaders and employees to create an inclusive culture, where every employee feels relevant and valued.”

innovation through co-opetition

In an increasingly interconnected world, IBM recognizes the importance of partnerships in sustaining its pipeline of  innovation and new ideas. Startups and the talent that comes with  them are a key part of this ‘ecosystem’. “In this ‘co-opetition’ era, we don‘t view startups as competitors for talent, but as partners and a clear source of talent for IBM. Their agile culture, bold attitude and creative mind-set match very well with what we are searching for in our business. That‘s why we‘re looking to team up with them to address new market  opportunities, combining startups’ innovation with IBM‘s infrastructure, software and experience to bring world-class solutions to market,” says Ms Pons. “We can help startups accelerate their business development through our technology and cloud platform. We also support them through a range of programs such as IBM Global Entrepreneur, which equips  them with the go-to-market support, business mentorship, services, technical guidance and networking opportunities needed to quickly bring their solutions to the market.”

Another important part of this talent ecosystem is IBM‘s alumni. Many, though certainly not all, millennials are looking for more mobile careers than previous generations. Their experience as IBMers is prized within the job market. Yet, the company sees this as an opportunity and maintains close links with many of its former employees. “As IBMers, we‘re passionate about what we do, proud of the impact that we make in the world, and we tend to stay in IBM for a long time. Some do decide to pursue other opportunities. Many of these join our joint ventures, our clients or our partners, bringing their valuable skills to our ecosystem and ultimately benefiting our clients,” says Ms Pons.

technology is transient, culture is enduring

So what can other companies learn from the enduring commercial success and talent appeal of IBM? The company has always recognized that innovation is nothing unless it can make a difference to people‘s lives, be they clients, communities and, crucially, IBMers. Alongside  the company‘s culture of innovation, its capacity and market reach give IBMers a chance to help shape and influence the future, while being among the first to experience the impact of these innovations within their own work. And the culture of innovation means that IBMers will remain curious and keep experimenting throughout their careers, enabling each generation to make its own distinctive impact.