May 24, 2017
Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own. When companies find themselves in a rut (and in IBM’s case a very long, 20 consecutive quarters of loss/decline--whatever you want to call it--rut) they tend to follow the same two-step process:
1. Re-strategize, which typically starts with cutting cost.
When neither option works out—such as in the case of IBM—they revert back to step number one in an attempt to stay relevant.
That’s what is currently happening at International Business Machines. In an effort to turn themselves around, IBM is calling for remote workers to stop working remotely and come back into the office. The thinking behind this move is to create greater moments of serendipity. In other words, the more frequent employees interact, the more likely they are to generate new conversations which lead to new insights which increase business momentum. The keyword here is “likely.” The fact is, this strategy is another shot in the dark. It’s a hope for something new but it’s not a plan.
At the heart of IBM leadership's intention here is the desire to change employee behavior. They want to drive greater innovation, communicate and make decisions faster. They want to reduce the problem-solving cycle time because, after all, if you can A) see the problem and B) solve the problem faster than your enemy, then you’ll constantly stay ahead. But that’s not what’s going to happen with the current approach because restructuring just offers more of the same. Granted, An unhappy employee is a soon to be flight risk, and likely a future champion against working there. The problem with restructuring is that it offers immediate feedback because leaders feel like there's momentum. Unfortunately, the move is just smoke in mirrors; it’s an illusion that they’ve made progress when all they’ve really done is shuffled people around into different boxes. They haven’t changed behavior which is their real intention.
It’s not about where people work. Where people work isn’t as important as how or why they work. Remember from Daniel Pink’s research on Motivation 2.0 that autonomy is one of three main drivers for people, along with purpose and mastery. If employees don’t feel their autonomous needs are being met, then off to another job they go.
In the SEAL Teams, for example, we were deployed all across the globe—sometimes on our own—and we needed to stay informed about everything going on both within our area of operations and adjacent to it in order to make informed decisions that impacted future mission planning. The point is, it wasn’t where we worked that fostered collaboration, it was how. Here’s how:
Have a process.
Every day we had the same meeting—a 90 minute meeting of roughly 8,000 people geographically dispersed all over the globe who came together by way of virtual teleconference. Yes, eight thousand. The reason why this meeting was so large was because it informed the day of everyone involved, and in war—much like in business—the decisions in one area impact decisions in another. We shared theater-specific intentions so teams knew what they would and wouldn’t have access to which allowed them to plan more specifically; we shared lessons learned from different theaters which informed operations in another; we shared strategic intent which reduced the telephone effect that typically happens when messages get passed throughout the ranks. By getting everybody—and I mean everybody—together, you heard right from the horse’s mouth his intent and the decisions made, which eliminated individual interpretation.