Monday, January 12, 2004

Organizational Beliefs

"IBM sent a holiday chill through its U.S. employees with plans to ship thousands of high-paying white-collar jobs overseas to lower-paid foreign workers."

Bob Herbert, The New York Times

Herbert reports that people in IBM are upset and angry. "They (IBM) acknowledged the danger of political backlash, but said it was essential to step up the practice. 'Our competitors are doing it, and we have to do it,' said Tom Lynch, IBM's director for global employee relations."

"Referring to employees who may be affected by the plans, he (an IBM spokesman) said, 'We deal with them as they need to know.' "

"Mention IBM and the image of a solid corporation comes to mind - a technology pioneer that forged a special bond with its employees who proudly declared themselves 'True Blue'. In the 1970s and 1980s, many of these employees who worked in the so-called 'clean rooms', where they built microchips and hard drives. These were boom times for IBM. Clean rooms ran round the clock, feeding the demands of the computer revolution. But, a few years ago, some clean room veterans noticed that colleagues were coming down with cancers - rare cancers - at surprisingly early ages. One IBM team had a cancer rate of 80 percent. At about the same time, some children born to IBM families were delivered with terrible birth defects. IBM declined an interview with 60 Minutes II. But some IBM workers say that the company's clean rooms were a dirty secret. And what shocks them even more is just how much Big Blue knew."

60 Minutes II

60 Minutes II

"This, then is my thesis: I firmly believe that any organization, in order to survive and achieve success, must have a sound set of beliefs on which it premises all its policies and actions. Next, I believe that the single most important factor in corporate success is faithful adherence to those beliefs. And, finally, I believe that if an organization is to meet the challenges of a changing world, it must be prepared to change everything about itself except those beliefs as it moves through corporate life."

Thomas Watson, Jr.

A Business and its Beliefs

And, what were those beliefs delineated by Thomas Watson, Jr., son of IBM's founder and then Chairman of IBM?

1. Respect for the individual

2. Best possible customer service

3. Superior performance from individuals

I know that these beliefs are long gone from the IBM culture, but I have never had that point driven home to me more that the two articles quoted above. The IBM spokesman quoted in Herbert's article showed a real disrespect to IBM employees who may be affected by IBM's decisions. And, whether IBM knew about the cancer risks without telling its employees or not, the very fact that even the suggestion has surfaced is a clear indication how far IBM has moved from the original belief system.

Watson was writing in 1963, about 48 years after the formation of the company. He remained optimistic, "IBM is still very much the same company it has always been and we intend it shall always be. For while everything else has altered, our beliefs remain unchanged."

Paul Schumann


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