Online social collaboration is an opportunity to change how 430,000 IBM employees worldwide work together, cutting through bureaucractic ‘BigBlue’ tape. This story is about passionate employees discovering and teaching each other new ways to work, turning our organizational transformation process into a social collaboration that can help serve customers better.
IBM today is a fundamentally different company than it was even just 10 years ago. Changes in the global marketplace and in technological advancement have reshaped the competitive demands of our clients. Our clients seek to innovate—not just in their products and services, but also their business processes, management systems, policies and core business models.
IBM has transformed its mix of products, services, skills and technologies, including exiting commodity businesses like PCs and hard disk drives, while making 116 strategic acquisitions over the course of the decade, largely in software and services. We've amassed substantial cross-industry expertise, and reinvented the way we deploy it, shifting skills and decision making closer to the marketplace and the client. We've invested significantly more in our teams and capabilities in the developing world, and accelerated the global integration of IBM’s operations.
Our success depends on our ability to understand customer problems and deploy solutions to help them achieve success. This was hard work even when blue-suited IBM teams were co-located in massive office buildings, marching in lockstep through rigid hierarchies and processes.
Today, we have 430,000 IBMers in teams spread over 170 countries who need to create solutions across organizational units under matrixed management structures. Fifty percent of our employees have been with the company less than 5 years, due in part to rapid global expansion, but also because of the acquisitions we've made. This creates an ongoing challenge to integrate employees, work styles, locations, group structures, and relationship networks.
Organizational size and complexity are natural multipliers of bureaucracy, slowing down the agility of a business to react to change. We need flexible employees and management systems, clear policies and procedures for navigating the business at top speed, and skilled, passionate people who can respond quickly to the marketplace.
Changes in business structure and employee capability have impacted how IBMers do their jobs. We're collaborating across business units to focus on solutions and services. We're conducting much of our business online to work with colleagues across geographies and timezones. Our focus on growth markets has us building new relationships across cultures. And with the number of new employees in the business, we're finding new ways to build trust and share knowledge across the globe.
Changes in technology are also driving changes in how we're working. Social technologies, inside and outside the company, give employees new means by which to collaborate, build reputations, and drive business. IBM employees have been collaborating for many years using internet systems and email. In particular, those in technical, product development and research roles have been on the leading edge of emerging innovations. As these employees started to adopt social technologies, the social culture they were building began to spread across the organization as more people saw the benefits. We knew there would be exponential benefit from expanding the scope to include all roles across the company, leading to a new model for the organization: a Social Business.
The challenge therefore become the following:
How do we propagate social collaboration throughout the business, so that all employees gain the skills and knowledge they need, form the relationships that will benefit themselves and clients, and respond with accuracy and speed? The early adopters were on board, but what about the rest of the company? How do we drive social business adoption so all employees participate, and benefit?
The vision of the executive leaders was simple enough: start with our employees particularly in client-facing job roles, equip them with skills, and show by example how a Social Business works. In a client meeting, a sales person, for example, should be able to turn her laptop around and say,
“Here's how we work in IBM. You have a question about a product? Let's find a product expert. You want to meet with the account team? Let's start an online instant meeting. You need this presentation for your next meeting? I'll share it with you online.”
The focus on client-facing roles was intentional, not just because of the impact on clients, but also because of the challenging demands of these roles: frequent travel, diverse cultures and geographies, time-intensive demands, changing projects and stakeholders, and sensitivity to relationships. If we could improve active participation in social business by those in client-facing roles, then we would have a strong indicator of how other roles, departments and business units would be affected. In our globally integrated enterprise, our goal is to build parity through an equitable social business environment for all.
The moonshots relevant to this challenge, transcending traditional management trade-offs, enabling communities of passion, and building natural flexible hierarchies, describe the work we've done to build a culture of participation, change behaviors, and demonstrate the benefits of being a Social Business. We've had success from employing a programmatic approach to adoption, nurturing the influence of leaders throughout the business, especially from non-traditional roles in the hierarchy, and tapping into the passionate commitment of people who believe change is not only beneficial, but a business imperative.
Online collaboration and communities of passion have been part of IBM's culture dating back to the 1970s and 1980s. With the advent of Web 2.0 and social business technologies such as wikis, blogs, social networking, etc. available inside and outside the company, our employees started to benefit professionally and personally. They started to find new people online with whom to network, share knowledge, and build reputation and influence.
In 2007, to make sure that all employees could benefit from Social Business, not just the early adopters, the Senior VP of IBM Software Group sponsored the BlueIQ program to drive adoption, with the goals of enabling client-facing employees to leverage the collective intelligence of IBM, improve productivity, and serve clients more effectively. In addition, the Senior VP of IBM Marketing and Communication wanted to make our best asset – our employees and their expertise — visible and available to our clients. He sponsored the Social Business @ IBM program in 2010 as part of the IBM Centennial Programs, and in tandem with BlueIQ. Today, approximately 300,000 IBM employees use IBM Connections and other social business technologies internally, and over 29,000 IBM experts are visible on the Social Business @ IBM web site.
The 1600 volunteers in the BlueIQ Ambassador community, for example, comprise employees passionate about social business adoption. They help to spread the philosophy and practices of Social Business, and we would not have two- thirds of IBMers participating without their help. The transformation at IBM is evolving as the BlueIQ Ambassadors' experience with social business evolves, and likewise, the ambassadors' experience is reshaped by the overall transformation. They evolve hand in hand.
These programs laid the foundational enabling mechanisms that have encouraged many IBMers to share their knowledge online, discover new ways to overcome limitations of time zones, availability, and face to face meetings, and dramatically increase their freedom to communicate directly. We are exploring new ways to scissor levels of bureaucracy that existed prior to such open communications.
As this approach becomes norm, the way IBMers and business opportunities are managed also changes; a fundamental change to the culture at IBM. Communities of peers, shaped by the passion of their members, become the core instruments of driving business.
Back in 2007, we had the support of enthusiastic early adopters, but driving social business adoption by the general IBM employee population posed many challenges:
Business value was not clear and business impact was (and still is) difficult to quantify
Social networking was perceived as tools for personal, not business, use, and in some cases, as “something for my kids only”
Many were overwhelmed at having to choose among hundreds of social networking and social collaboration tools available
Some were concerned with risks of saying the “wrong thing” and with privacy
Feedback from global teams raised issues of sensitivity to geographical differences: culture, work styles, technology infrastructure, availability of tools, and language support
To address these challenges, we focused on several strategies, which are still in operation today:
Building an environment that fosters social collaboration:
We recruit early adopters of social business to evangelize and to help other IBM employees. This is social learning itself through peer education, sharing best practices, and through communities led by reputable thought leaders. For example, any employee who wants to start an online community can find help in our CommunityBuilders community. In the BlueIQ Ambassadors community, we recognize top contributors and educate each other on social business. The IBM intranet has over 72,000 online communities, 41,000 public and the rest private. While many of these are project related, some are peer groups (the iPhone Fans community) and others focus on employee development (the Women in Europe community).
The IBM CIO team provides a global social collaboration platform and works closely with product development teams and user communities such as BlueIQ to solicit feedback and understand usage. This simplifies the choice of tools, while communicating the strategic direction for the social collaboration platform.
IBM Social Computing Guidelines were developed in a collaborative process among HR, Legal and early adopters. IBM Business Conduct Guidelines also exist, yet employees felt they needed additional guidance specific to sharing and collaborating online to address concerns by individuals as well as business units. The success of the e guidelines can be seen in how other companies have used them as a model.
Enabling social collaboration skills by tailoring to specific needs:
BlueIQ enablement focuses on use cases designed for common tasks and specific to designated roles. In addition, enablement is tailored to geographies where applicable. The segmentation by role, task and geography yields success stories and best practices that are applicable to a variety of audiences throughout the company. We publish these stories through blogs, communities and training materials to make them available to specific audiences.
Employees can choose from a mix of enablement formats: regularly scheduled one-to-many live enablement sessions, small group consultations, a self-study approach based on available materials and video, and community-based learning and peer-to-peer activities.
All aspects of the BlueIQ program – the enablement, the ambassador community, the success stories, the learning materials, etc – are available to all employees, and shared openly on IBM Connections on our intranet. Any employee can add and contribute their stories, expertise and materials. Our enablement is conducted using social business technologies such as IBM Connections and LotusLive.
Gaining support from executives:
In addition to the top-level sponsorship for adoption programs, we continue to ask our executives to demonstrate leadership by example. We created a specific curriculum and approach whereby BlueIQ ambassadors mentor executives one-on-one, according to the needs. For example, in some cases mentoring is focused on an executive's personal branding; in others on improving their team communication. When key leaders show visible participation and support, it encourages employees to do so too.
Developing country-specific focus where needed:
As social business adoption started to grow in the company, we were able to track patterns of adoption in different regions of the world. We identified areas where we either wanted to increase the rate of growth or felt it was important to the business to accelerate growth. For example, we have many new employees in India, so we help them during the on-boarding process with good collaboration practices. In another example, we identified the need to deliver materials in local languages in particular regions of the world and worked with local BlueIQ ambassadors to lead translation in those regions.
We have documented the BlueIQ methodology in our Nurturing BlueIQ: Enterprise2.0 Adoption at IBM paper (in the Materials section) which has also been available on the Web since 2010.
The Social Business adoption initiatives at IBM are successful precisely because they draw together individual influencers from all areas across our global organization who have a passion for engaging in social collaboration. While the tools and environment certainly existed where these passionate users were involved, it took a deliberate approach to bring them together, build a common goal, have common activities and imbue a collective presence and reputation across the company.
To get a feel for the amount of online collaboration activity that occurs behind the IBM enterprise firewall today, we have:
- 630,000 user profiles and identities (including all employees and contractors)
- 74,800 communities and user groups
- 105,000 bloggers inside the firewall
- 1.3 Million shared social bookmarks
- 203,000 shared or team acitivities
- 475,000 files shared and 9.5 Million file downloads
- 50,000 wikis and 38 Million wiki page views
- 50 Million instant messages sent every day
- 30 Million minutes of web conferencing a month
This high degree of activity and adoption follows the growth of the BlueIQ Ambassador community of volunteers over the years since 2007 as well (Please see the image attached in the Materials section at end of this Story). In particular, note that we are looking at regular (meaning weekly) habits among IBMers beyond the passionate volunteers of Ambassadors as the indicator. Also note that the growth has continued without the need for a linear growth in volunteerism. In other words, there is an enduring effect inspired by the passion of the volunteers that continues to spread across the company.
The benefits are most visible in the human impact of the success stories of how individuals and teams are finding their own ways to overcome large-scale bureaucracy through direct social collaboration. Our employees document their own collaborative successes in an internal blog while the BlueIQ program team intentionally scouts for stories by role and region. To date we now have over 200 success stories ranging from how individual employees discovered new ways to collaborate to entire teams teaching themselves and others how to work together across multiple regions and projects.
Within the following stories, we see the ways employees are discovering balance in how to develop their own networks of natural hierarchy within the masses of IBM globally. We also see how they are achieving their specific business goals, and how, through these stories, they become inspirational models to follow:
- One fundamental change in how our executives communicate direction to all employees in their organizational units is a shift from sending out broadcast email to interacting in online communities. These communities also serve as way to accelerate enablement and training to employees beyond traditional mechanisms and into social and peer-to-peer learning.
For example, the IBM Collaboration Solutions (ICS) Sales community is the centerpoint for an ICS Live Social program engaging salespeople to collaborate and participate in social networks and highlight their successes. The community hosts regular conference calls with the VP of ICS Sales, and allows sales representatives to continue the conversation online even while they travel. Salespeople use the community as a way to bring questions to each other around common issues or tactical objectives.
The ICS Sales community initially consisted of only the employees directly reporting to the sales executive, but has since expanded to twice its size since launch, drawing members from across IBM. This expansion continues helps reach across silos in different departments, expanding the value of the community beyond its original intentions.
Use of the community to communicate information reduces the need to schedule meetings and discussions among a population that is by design worldwide in many time zones, and facilitates consistent direction for the worldwide sales team on sales goals, business offerings, and team achievements. Sales people gain time to focus on their work.
Across IBM this same model of communities per organization unit or department repeats many times over. In the IBM Collaboration Solutions organization, for example, the General Manager of ICS has a community for the entire organization, and in turn, each executive in Marketing, Sales, and Development for their business segments. These communities reach beyond the boundaries of the organization by influencing other areas of IBM such as HR, CIO, Services, and other Software brand organizations. This cross-silo operation radically reduces the number of communications and improves accuracy of those messages, as well as allowing transparency across each executive’s common themes and messages.
- At two locations in IBM India, there are more employees than available in-office seats, due to some employees working remotely. When remote employees would come into the office, they wouldn't know whether an empty seat meant someone was out of the office or not. The employees needed a system to help identify open seats in which room and building on what day.
Rather than adding a bureaucratic layer to manage these logistics, the employees use the IBM Connections Activities tool to allow individual users to identify when their seats are free, and allow others to respond when they would be using it. This logistics issue was solved through an ad hoc social process created, operated and self-managed directly by employees, without the need for software developers to build a tool, or the approval of their managers.
- The IBM HR Center for Advanced Learning (CAL) worldwide team needed to coordinate their day-to-day tasks, how they allocate team members to different projects and tasks, on-board new talent, and keep each other informed on their diverse activities. They use a wiki to:
- Welcome new team members
- Provide an overview of what the team does
- Set expectations
- Share information on portfolios, business units & projects
- Maintain a list of thought leaders
- Share templates, important links files, job aids, tips and tricks
- Provide information on team calls, including agendas and notes
- Collaborate and discuss
In this way, several dozen people on this team asynchronously help themselves to training and practical need-to-know basics, and even dynamically adjust how they work. The wiki reduces or eliminates the need for micromanagement of employee-to-project allocation, and developing individual talent.
This is a commonly repeated model across many teams in IBM, moving from traditional management meetings and cadence calls to teams that self-manage and self-document their coordination among the their members and roles.
- Another team created their own external community to collaborate among over 200 marketing executives, agency partners, and marketing professionals. They simplified project management and coordination across multiple partners and IBM contacts.
- A VP of sales described how he saved himself over an hour each week by consolidating the different ways he communicated with his direct reports of sales managers and operations people. They are now expanding this practice to other roles and members of his sales territory.
- A Swiss technical sales manager encouraged his team to construct all their RFP responses using IBM Connections Activities, which allows his team to quickly bring together and train experts for short-term work. Having this information at their fingertips helps them address customer critical situations rapidly, thereby improving customer satisfaction.
“I've been recommending the BlueIQ lunch and learn sessions to the New2Blue folks - new IBMers right from college, from acquisitions, from other companies, and more. Many of the new IBMers are living in places in the world where there are no IBM locations and few if any other IBMers. They need our help more than anything. By bringing our social computing ways of working to people when they're brand new to IBM, they are more apt to develop the good habits of working in this way. They're also more easily able to network with other IBMers - a great skill to have as a new IBMer.” -- in HR
“ I have a very specific example that enabled us to support our client. They asked for help with an internal newsletter [which] had to be in Lotus Notes format and look great …; when the newsletter was released, I saw the note from the client CIO saying how good it was. BlueIQ helped us deliver a fine product to our client” -- in Sales
“I have gained value on so many levels from the BlueIQ (Ambassadors) program! This program has helped me with my journey of changing the way sales does business … to convince sales management that social software really does dramatically impact productivity of all sales rep roles. The ibm.com inside sales mission is focussed on leveraging innovative touch-points. The BlueIQ Ambassadors Community has been an invaluable source of information to help sellers get a better understanding of how they can utilise social media tools to help them become more productive in their own roles but also in providing insight to their own customers on better ways of doing business” -- in Sales operations.
In 2011, the passionate BlueIQ Ambassador community had grown to over 1600 volunteers. They held over 160 different events across all IBM worldwide business units to educate each other and share their passion on how to collaborate. In addition, they have also held 50 community events to meet and interact with each other as well as other IBMers, energizing and reinvigorating their own energy. The fact that they engage in such activities on their own volition, without needing permission or requiring formal direction to do so, describes a high level of passion across this worldwide group.
The degree of active participation in our social collaborative online environment has grown from 11% in 2009 to over 40% of our salesforce in 2011. This represents the highly active users who have grown accustomed to interacting over this online medium on a weekly and monthly basis; on the broader level over 66% of all sales roles are now using this environment. Among the marketing roles across the global organization, similarly active participation has now grown from 9% in 2009 to 35% in 2011. This rise in global participation among the client-facing roles again is a leading indicator of how social business is faring across IBM.
Furthermore, in 2009 based on analysis of our internal social activity metrics, we noticed obvious growth in North America and Western Europe but rather missing activity in where IBM was placing its own efforts: in the growing markets in Asia Pacific and Latin America. We needed to shore up the communities in major countries of China, India, Japan and Australia, and help individuals in those countries become influential in the global IBM social collaboration environment.
We then launched regional efforts in these countries to find local Ambassadors who would be willing to drive participation in their regions and give direct assistance. Through that effort we were able to increase participation from an average of 5% of the population to nearly 35%, a many-fold growth in the community and in individual influencers in these regions.
What we now recognize is that this growth in active participation is one dimension of a degree of maturity in Social Business. To understand the other dimensions, please take a look at the presentation and video in the materials section titled Social Business Maturity Changes How You ____. It gives additional insight on other areas of maturity beyond adoption and program management, such as the maturity of our conversations about the topic itself, the maturity in the qualities and actions, and in value creation.
- Keep the eye on the prize.
The prize is being a successful business. So lead every conversation, presentation, program, planning session, metrics discussion – you name it - with business value. Gather the facts, chart the progress, tell the stories. Collaborative business is not about how many followers you have on Twitter, it is about the success your business has in delivering value.
- Teach tasks, not tools, and help people learn socially.
Show people how to get their jobs done: how social collaboration works inside business processes and for their specific roles. Don't just teach the tools. Provide a variety of ways to learn and practice, and design learning to occur in frequent, small chunks of time. We provide weekly online education sessions, 1:1 mentoring, small group consultations, and social learning through communities. Repeat, repeat, repeat. People have different levels of readiness for learning new behaviors and will experience different “ah-ha“ moments – repetition helps reinforce the learning.
- Engage your peers.
This is not merely a tools deployment. You need a social deployment of skills, behaviors, and stories, led by people who can help each other. We engaged early adopters and helped them help others by providing materials, a community of support, and facts and figures to help them tell success stories. Arm the army! And, recognize effort. Most of the work is carried out by volunteers. Let them know you value their contribution. If you have money for rewards, good for you – buy them prizes. If not, recognize people with public and private thanks, with opportunities to show their expertise, and by socializing their success - including to management.
- Showcase executive participation.
Visible leadership is essential. We started with executive sponsorship for collaboration initiatives and adoption programs, but it wasn't enough to end the responsibility of our executive leaders there. We needed to show visible “walk-the-talk” leadership and examples of the day-to-day collaboration by leaders across the company. We developed executive 1:1 mentoring programs to focus on management and executive tasks. We paired our volunteer ambassadors with executives to deliver the mentoring (part of the reward program for ambassadors), and we showcase executive participation to other executives (nothing like a little competition!) And, we use the executive participation as a way to demonstrate the business value to others.
- Use a deliberate approach.
While our efforts evolved over several years to be flexible with the changing environment, it was still very deliberate. We build enablement activities according to a learning design plan. We collect success stories based on a list of roles, tasks, and tools. We accrue metrics at regular intervals and report progress to executives on a quarterly basis. We manage the program using proven tactics. We have social computing guidelines and policies that cover all employees. We share progress, tips, lessons learned and advice regularly through blogs, communities, presentations and micro-blogs. BUT – we also recognize there isn't a “one size fits all” to adoption. We use multiple approaches based on job roles, tasks, and especially geography. What works in India does not necessarily work in China. We manage the program to key performance indicators such as participation and number of learning events appropriate for the region or job scope, rather than one-size-fits-all metrics.
- There is no “finish”.
Innovation never stops, and culture change takes time. Understand that victory is in the daily accumulation of social exchanges, content, and connections that lead to value. Understand that serendipity happens because the seeds of collaboration are sown throughout the organization. And understand that innovation never stops. You are not reaching an end line with social business adoption. Rather, you are creating patterns of behavior for collaborating and connecting that will transcend today's innovations and position your business and your people for tomorrow.
Becoming a Social Business: The IBM Story ftp://ps.boulder.ibm.com/ftp/demos/226706-IDC-Whitepaper-Becoming-a-Social-Business-IBM-Story.pdf
Social Business Adoption at IBM (in English and Chinese) -- https://www-304.ibm.com/files/app?lang=en_US#/person/1000009AND/file/567e7926-2978-4652-9e9d-829066831fa3
Agenda for a Social Sales Force https://www-304.ibm.com/wikis/home?lang=en_US#/wiki/Groundswell/page/Welcome
IBM Social Computing Guidelines http://www.ibm.com/blogs/zz/en/guidelines.html