IBM — Shades of Yogi Berra

YogiYoga Berra is arguably the greatest catcher in the history of Major League Baseball, although Johnny Bench certainly has his advocates. However, Berra is more widely known for his unique way of expressing his thoughts. He insists — and those who know him best agree — that his observations are natural rather than contrived. In fact, he claims “I never said all that I said.”

Here is a brief article written by Aubrey Daniels for Talent Management magazine. To read the complete article, check out all the resources, and sign up for a free subscription to the TM and/or Chief Learning Officer magazines published by MedfiaTec, please click here.

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As Yogi Berra would say, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

When I read last month about what IBM CEO Virginia Rometty said to all 434,000 employees following a poor financial quarterly report, I thought, “I’ve heard this before.” So, I dug back in my files to find the 1991 clipping in which John Akers, then CEO of IBM, said, “While I know many IBMers have never worked as hard as they are working today, I am convinced that some of our people do not understand that they have a deeply personal stake in declining market share, revenue and profits.” While arguably well-intended, Akers’ pronouncements did not improve results for him or IBM, and within two years he was forced to announce his resignation.

What Rometty reportedly said in an internal video was something to the effect that IBMers need to step it up and that the company as a whole isn’t moving fast enough. She also said that IBM is too slow and bureaucratic and needs to be more proactive when it comes to initiating change. As a way of showing her seriousness, she implemented a new rule whereby IBM employees must respond to a client question or request within 24 hours.

I’m not suggesting that Rometty’s fate will be similar to Akers’, but I am certain that her message and new response rule will not yield the results she demands.

I feel compelled to remind her of a popular saying in the quality world from several years ago, “Your system is perfectly designed to produce what it is producing.” If IBMers are not moving fast enough, are too bureaucratic and slow, chastising them will probably make things worse, not better. Systems, to include management practices and behaviors, are the problem, not lazy, unresponsive or uncreative employees. If you don’t change the relevant systems, especially the management behaviors, then we will hear the third version of this speech in a couple of years.

One example of a common mistake managers make in trying to correct poor performance is called “the sandwich method.” Hear more about what it is and how to avoid it in this short podcast

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Aubrey C. Daniels is a thought leader and an internationally recognized expert on management, leadership and workplace issues who is considered an authority on human behavior in the workplace. Trained as a psychologist and specializing in the science of behavior analysis, Daniels is the author of Bringing Out the Best in People and five other business books. As chairman of his consulting firm, Aubrey Daniels International, he and his staff help organizations employ the timeless principles of behavioral science to re-energize the workplace, optimize performance and achieve lasting results. He can be reached at his firm.

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