Putting people over profit a priority for CEOs, finds IBM
For the majority of high-performing company CEOs, those in the top 20% for revenue growth, empowering a remote workforce is a top leadership challenge over the next few years.
That’s according to IBM’s annual CEO study, IBM Institute for Business Value’s 2021 CEO Study, which collates insights from 3,000 CEOs across 26 industries and nearly 50 countries.
The report found that remote work will become a permanent fixture as part of a hybrid workforce that blends in-person employees with virtual colleagues and as such will shift organisational culture and demand new management approaches and upgraded executive capabilities.
Wellbeing is a priority for CEOs
As part of this commitment to remote working support, 77% of outperforming company CEOs report plans to prioritise employee wellbeing even if it affects near-term profitability, reflecting that such organisations are putting people first over profit and prioritising talent.
"The COVID-19 pandemic challenged many leaders to focus on what's essential, like their people," said Mark Foster, senior vice president, IBM Services. "Many employees' expectations of their employers have significantly changed. The 'anywhere' workforce can require leaders to provide agile technology, to adopt more empathetic leadership models that prioritize employee wellbeing and to champion flexible and inclusive cultures."
This finding reinforces data from another IBV study, Accelerating the journey to HR 3.0, which found that CHROs at outperforming organizations reported their companies “support as a core value” the physical, emotional, and financial wellbeing of their employees at rates nearly three times those of underperforming companies.
“The far most important capability is human capability,” says Younus Al Nasser, CEO of Smart Dubai, the government agency that facilitates the city’s digital transformation. “Technology advancements come when you have the right human capabilities.”
What employee wellbeing means to CEOs
This support has to be not just well-intended, but well-received, however. A C-suite focus on employee wellbeing may not be enough if the employees themselves aren’t feeling the love.
In many organisations, employees have felt unenthusiastic about corporate efforts. Another of IBM’s recent reports, Closing The Chasm compared employer perspectives with those of employees and found that while 80% of executives believed they were supporting the physical and emotional health of employees, only 46% of employees felt they were being supported.
Questions therefore emerge about how companies re-engage around collaboration and deliver opportunities for teams to be together again.
IBM recommends that leaders consider carefully the longer-term challenge of a hybrid work environment, including things like providing employees with digital, cloud-enabled tools for collaboration, preventing employee burnout, or sustaining company culture with a focus on diversity and inclusion.
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.