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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

A look inside IBM

I caught up today with Randall MacDonald, vice president of Human Resources for IBM, on a visit to Miami (probably to escape frigid weather up north. It's interesting how so many mucky mucks from cold places find reasons to visit South Florida in the fall and winter months).
Anyway, Randall was on a tight schedule. He was heading out to hold town hall meetings with IBMers in Miami. But we chatted a bit about his take on the big HR issues. It seems IBM is concerned about its future workforce. Fewer people are studying math and science, engineering and technology. This reflects badly on IBM's prospects for future employes and future customers.
Randall says his company noticed the Hispanic community is growing more than other populations. But the graduation rate is lower in the Hispanic population. So, IBM wants to influence Hispanics to graduate and particularly to study math and science. The company has set up some programs to do so. Randall says IBM also is encouraging its retirees to become high school math and science teachers. Pretty interesting.
Along with the Hispanic issue, here are some hotpoints Randall plans to bring up at his town hall meeting with employees (These are issues he also discusses around the world, recently in Asia and Western Europe): Women leaving the workforce for childcare and eldercare reasons; leadership and how to get more workers interested; career management and who should be resonsible for it, workers or their supervisors.
I asked Randall how IBM's efforts to promote work/life balance were faring. His response surprised me: telecommuting is not going all that well. He feels it has affected communication and teamwork.
"Flexibility is not as successful as it is deemed to be. People love to work at home but they feel very alone,'' he said.
Randall thinks young people and their emphasis on technology are realizing they are missing out by not having face to face interactions. I don't really agree. But I do agree that working from home can be isolating and carry risk, which is why I go to the office most of the time.

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