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Is IBM’s recent decision another sign of their lack of innovation?

The decision to call in its remote employees shows they are missing the point.

IBM’s Chief Marketing Officer, Michelle Peluso, announced that her team of thousands of marketing specialists will be relocating to 6 regional locations across the country (Atlanta, Raleigh, Austin, Boston, San Francisco, and New York). These employees, some of whom were already working in offices and many others remotely, will be assigned a location not based on proximity to their home, but instead, based on a location where most of their team is already located.

Does Peluso understand the weight of this decision?

Quartz reported, “Michelle prepared to make an announcement that she knew would excite some of her 5,500 new employees but also, inevitably, inspire resignation notices from others.”

If she knew this, why go forward?

In an internal video, Peluso explained:

“I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this, and a lot of time working with teams from real-estate, finance, HR, operations, the geo leaders, the marketing leaders.

There is only one recipe I know for success, particularly when we are in as much of a battle with Microsoft and the West Coast companies as we are, and that is by bringing great people with the right skills, give them the right tools, give them a mission, make sure they can analyze their results, put them in really creative inspiring locations and set them free.”

It’s a very interesting realization.

I believe the transition back to home base will continue to happen as companies struggle to attract talent by promoting remote work and then struggle again to connect with their people. Often, they will assume, like Peluso, that the lack of innovation or engagement must do with working remotely. This is merely a mirage hiding the true, underlying issue; connection of people.

Connection doesn’t require proximity in the future of work. It’s more about the connection companies create and foster with their employees. The questions Peluso should have been asking, instead of assuming a one-size fits all, are….

How often does my team get together in person? What structures are in place for our remote employees to do this? How can we get together more often?

How can we facilitate more face-to-face interaction even when remote? For example, making all virtual meetings video only, to avoid distractions and multi-tasking.

What ways are we building cross-functional teams? How often are we breaking up teams to avoid ‘group think’? What are we doing to develop project based teams vs function based teams?

These are the more important questions to answer rather than focusing on the proximity and location of her people. In short, Peluso’s solution is short sighted.

IBM will not only lose great employees, it also shows their lack of innovative thinking. It’s an indicative of where IBM is stuck.

Originally published on Thrive Global on May 18th, 2017

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