IBM’s learning strategy focuses on three core elements. First, the company strives to achieve innovative, technology-enabled approaches to learning. Second, it empowers its leaders to develop other leaders. Third, it provides career guidance to all members of the organization.
Increasingly, IBM is leveraging social learning to meet this first element of learning strategy. Rather than develop centrally related content, experts throughout the company find, build, publish, share and comment on assets to enhance skills development and productivity. IBM has created tools such as online learning communities and socially generated tags on key knowledge assets to make relevant knowledge more searchable. It also has reduced search time and costs, accelerated onboarding and, recognizing that more than 40 percent of its workforce is global, enabled delivery of job-relevant information to networked mobile devices.
IBM’s organizational culture is shaped by consistent behavior from its senior leaders. So, to achieve the second element of its learning strategy — leaders developing leaders — the company involves senior leaders in the assessment, selection and development of their peers as well as junior staff. This develops enterprise leadership capabilities and broadcasts a clear, powerful signal throughout the enterprise that leadership development is a top priority.
To achieve career guidance, its third core learning element, IBM grows the capabilities its clients prize by fostering employee growth. The company developed an enterprise-wide career framework and system for employees to develop and track their capabilities, thus widening their internal career opportunities. Employees also receive information about market-valued skills to ensure their skill sets remain relevant to clients.
To further hone its learning strategy, IBM conducts employee surveys to gauge workforce needs. In its 2010 global pulse survey, the company learned its employees wanted real-life experience and variety as well as more people interaction in their development. The company also learned its employees place a greater value on learning derived from individuals in the workforce as opposed to learning created by the enterprise. With this in mind IBM learning leaders decided to rethink learning content, specifically who delivers it and how the company makes it available. The learning organization decided a model to “push training” should be replaced by one to “pull learning.” Going forward, company learning will provide access to and ensure the inclusion of expertise and experience in order to promote a shift from formal to informal learning delivery methods.
IBM’s sales learning program offers one example of its core successes in learning. The program includes the T-shaped professional sales model, which provides sellers with a broad and deep skill set. The model is referred to as T-shaped because the horizontal portion symbolizes breadth and the vertical piece symbolizes depth. The model teaches that client relationships are important, but alone are not enough to differentiate IBM from its competitors. Instead the T-shaped model focuses on where sellers can broaden their skills and deepen their knowledge to grow their careers and drive client value. The model asserts that in addition to industry, solution or technical expertise, sellers also must have financial skills, a firm understanding of IBM strategy and the ability to integrate all facets of the model in order to create client value.
Another element of IBM’s sales learning program is the sales career model, which focuses on the expertise employees need to produce value for clients and to make it easier for sellers to move between industry, solution and technical career paths. This approach identifies skill and capability overlaps at high expertise levels. This view of sales skills offers additional possibilities for solution integration and builds collaboration and career opportunities for IBM sellers.
Yet another element of IBM’s sales learning program is the global sales school, which accelerates time to productivity by providing new IBM sellers with opportunities to practice proven activities performed by the company’s high-performing sellers. Sellers complete a series of team challenges based on actual situations, core work tasks, current IBM sales resources and authentic deliverables. Then they receive feedback on real sales work documentation and simulated client calls to provide an authentic performance-based learning experience.
Daniel Margolis is managing editor of Chief Learning Officer magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.