The project could easily have bombed. Looking back, Frank Persico, IBM’s vice president of workforce learning and development and self-proclaimed optimist, admits that even he had qualms about how employees would receive the initiative.
Big Blue was losing talented employees who perceived a dearth of career advancement opportunities. The company came up with a plan to create a more formal and consistent way of providing people with new skills and better ways to connect to new opportunities through a job bank. Blue Opportunities was established to offer IBM’s global network of nearly 400,000 employees ways of connecting to a broad range of colleagues throughout the world and of staying current in the rapidly changing, highly competitive information technology industry.
The program was designed to electronically connect employees to a grass-roots system driven by direct employee and manager feedback. Participants can instantly learn about opportunities through shadowing—following other employees as they perform their jobs—rotating among different positions, and working on projects across various business units.
“A part of me thought it was risky,” Persico says. “But it worked marvelously. It tapped into a vein. Employees stepped into the pool and started swimming.”
Participants also can talk directly with their managers about what skills they might need in their areas of interest, how to learn them and how to apply for jobs companywide. One employee in India, for example, heard about, applied for and received training to become a tech specialist for a position he was later offered in Italy.
Persico says he was concerned that employees might fear their manager’s reaction to their interest in jobs in other divisions and that managers might think they’d lose valuable people if they posted job opportunities. “It took courage,” he says, but, “it turned out to be liberating.”
Based on employee surveys, the company reports that overall satisfaction is 85 percent favorable and that 99 percent of participants in Blue Opportunities intend to continue using the program. IBM credits the self-directed process as a plus in several areas, including employee development, networking, retention, productivity and matching the right person to the right job.
“It allows people to expand their horizons,” Persico says. “And it’s borderless.”
For creating a career development and learning initiative that reaches employees in most of the 170 countries where the company operates, IBM is the 2010 winner of the Optimas Award for Global Outlook.
Workforce Management, December 2010, p. 24 -- Subscribe Now!