January 13, 2005

News & Opinion: Confront and Move On

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 6:46 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

In Contagious Success, I point out that before a company can improve its performance, it needs to bring taboo subjects into the light. I suggest inviting representatives of your high-performing workgroups to a tell-all meeting with the CEO and other members of the senior leadership team. At this meeting, leaders offer amnesty for telling the truth. People air their frustration so they can get past their emotions and have room to think. This meeting paves the way for the company to confront the issues and move forward.
Thats exactly what happened at IBM, as described in the December 2004 issue of Harvard Business Review in an interview with CEO Samuel Palmisano conducted by Tom Stewart and Paul Hemp. In the interview, Palmisano described a 72-hour ValuesJam via the corporate intranet that drew about 50,000 employees and generated nearly 10,000 comments about the companys values. This was a tell-all meeting on a major scale.
For the first 24 hours, people vented. One who was quoted anonymously in the HBR article said, The only value in IBM today is the stock price. Eventually, the tone of the comments changed: the criticism became more constructive and the postings began to focus on the parts of the culture worth preserving.
Palmisano told HBR that the electronic argument was hot and contentious and messyWe had done three or four big online jams before thisEven so, none of those could have prepared us for the emotions unleashed by this topic. You had to put your ego asidenot easy for a CEO to doand realize that this was the best thing that could have happened.