Thursday, April 25, 2013

IBM and Mummified Hamburger – What Were They Thinking?

Today’s news contained two widely disparate stories that both had me scratching my head and wondering, “What were they thinking?”

Virginia Rometty
Virginia Rometty
First is the @WSJ story about @IBM’s Q1 earnings and CEO Virginia Rometty’s “pep talk” letter to her employees: Think Fast, Move Faster.  Wow, that’s profound. I wonder why thousands of IBM’s employees never thought of that.  Even more important, I wonder what has kept them from doing it before this. Four things occurred to me:
  1. This seems like yet another example of senior management expecting the troops to do things, even though those folks lack the power, the authority, the budget, or the leadership to do them.  Ms. Rometty acknowledges that the company has struggled with transforming fast enough and says they have to deal with it.  Fair enough.  But transforming from what to what?  And shouldn’t senior management be heading up this transformation?  Is she going to change policies, remove layers of management, streamline decision-making processes, or speed up the approval cycle?  That’s usually what employees need to move faster and they can’t do it by themselves.
  2. In what way has Ms. Rometty set an example for them by thinking fast and moving faster?  Well, she has already taken swift action by reassigning Rodney Adkins, formerly head of the Systems and Technology Group, which registered a sharp drop in first-quarter sales.  That sounds like a reasonable thing to do, right?  And The Wall Street Journal credits her with moving “aggressively.”  So what is Mr. Adkins’s new job?  He’s going to be senior vice president for corporate strategy.   That’s right: his division’s strategy was so bad that sales plummeted, so now he’s going to be in charge of strategy for the entire corporation.  I know what I’d do with IBM stock after hearing that news.
  3. Who’s at fault here?  Ms. Rometty blames sales.  In a way, that seems fair to me because the sales team usually blames someone else when they get outsold.  Generally, it’s product development (“We just don’t have the right product at the right price.”) or marketing (“We don’t have enough qualified leads and nobody knows who we are.”).  But I don’t think that’s the case here.  She says that the sales team, “failed to close a number of valuable software and hardware deals.”  Well, duh.  That’s like saying the candidate didn’t win because he didn’t get enough votes.  But WHY?
  4. Ms. Rometty says “We were too slow to understand the value and then engage on the approval and the sign-off process. The result? It didn't get done.”  Who’s the “we” in this sentence?  Does she include herself and her senior staff?  Then she says that, if a client has a request or question, IBM must respond within 24 hours.  "And if anything slows you down, call it out.  Engage management, engage leadership, and let's deal with it."  It seems that IBM management isn’t prepared to engage in this process unless an employee sends up a flare.  Is IBM going to do anything to make it simple or easy (or safe) for people to respond within 24 hours?  Read some of the comments for perspective.
This story reminds me of last month’s post, Big Companies Want to Think Small.  I would think it’s easy to sit in the corner office and order the ground-level employees to do something about a problem.  But it’s a lot harder to for those senior executives to go out and visit customers, listen to market research, talk to product development, figure out what the problem is and implement a plan to fix it.  Sometimes you have to get your hands dirty.  Sometimes you have to take drastic action yourself instead of just telling others to do it. And isn't that what they get paid the (really) big bucks to do?

14-year-old hamburger
Mummy, Can We Eat at McDonald's?
And speaking of moving faster, there’s the Utah man whose wife put her hand in the pocket of a coat that was hanging in a closet and found a hamburger that had been there for 14 years.  One four.  Fourteen. 

OK, Dave Whipple bought the @McDonalds burger for 79 cents in July of 1999 as a promotion for the diet supplement he sold, so he didn’t just put his lunch in his pocket and forget it.  At some point, though, he did stuff the burger in that coat pocket.  He didn’t plan to eat it later, so why did he do that?  Then the coat sat in a closet, untouched, for many years.  Granted, it’s hot and dry in St. George, Utah, so the thing naturally shrank into mummified fast food.  But still. Didn't anybody smell it?

Who puts a hamburger in a coat pocket?  What was Mr. Whipple thinking?  Maybe he and Ms. Rometty should have lunch.

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