Striving for Authentic Leadership

Interview by Gwen Wilcox, COO, Armstrong Wolfe

Striving for authentic leadership

Peter Zorn

Talent & Transformation, IBM

“The outcome of this journey, so far, has truly delivered a culture of continuous learning, high employee engagement, increased retention, and active internal mobility”

Career to Date

I’ve been extremely fortunate to have lived and worked in fourteen countries throughout my career. I actually started as a ‘Fax Receiver’ four floors below ground in a ‘lock box’ on Wall Street working my way through University. Unless you are of a certain age, there are many things about that sentence which won’t make sense to you! The role was in global custody and it involved settling trades, booking foreign exchange and protecting the assets of fund managers around the world. 

I had a manager who ensured I saw the bigger picture around how securities and cash moved around the world as well as the role of central market infrastructure players in making capital markets work. While it sounds mundane, this role rooted my fundamental understanding of process and how capital flows globally which set up the foundations for everything I’ve done since. That was the start of a global trajectory which has taken me across every continent multiple times over the past twenty-five plus years in financial services working for global investment banks as well as professional services firms, most recently IBM in Australia.

The IBM Culture and How to Empower People

IBM has been on a multi-year journey characterised by a ‘Skills-based’ transformation starting about seven years ago. The outcome of this journey, so far, has truly delivered a culture of continuous learning, high employee engagement, increased retention and active internal mobility. It started with policy (Think40 whereby all employees must log a minimum of 40 hours training per year on company time), but it has taken hold and now learning is part of daily life. Three key words permeate the enterprise culture: Transparency, Visibility and Personalisation.

Interesting Outcomes

A few remarkable outcomes which have aided our enterprise workforce reinvention include: 1) a nearly 300% increase in learning hours per employee from 27 hours to 73 hours annually; 2) 81% of IBMers have changed roles internally in the past 3 years; and 3) over 65% of our revenue in 2021 came from roles / skills that did not exist just ten years ago yet our attrition rate globally remains around a consistent 10%. That last fact is perhaps the most interesting in proving the importance of a learning culture – we did not simply hire a bunch of new people but rather guided and ‘nudged’ our people in the direction for them to choose their own path to success.

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