IBM’s Success Highlights Four Questions For All Execs

In case you’ve missed it, IBM is a hot commodity; during 2011 its stock rose from $147/share to $184/share.

A lot of the credit has to go to Samuel J. Palmisano, who just stepped down as IBM’s CEO after nearly decade of leading the IT behemoth.

Mr. Palmisano led the company using a framework based on four questions. According to Palmisiano, these four questions were a way to focus thinking and prod the company beyond its comfort zone and to make I.B.M. pre-eminent again:

  1. Why would someone spend their money with you — so what is unique about you?
  2. Why would somebody work for you?
  3. Why would society allow you to operate in their defined geography — their country?
  4. And why would somebody invest their money with you?

Palmisiano used this approach to redefine IBM as a smaller, more profitable company by divesting businesses like PC and disk drives and acquiring PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting among others.

My take: I like Palmisano’s questions; they point to an overarching theme: Value creation. I find that too many executives forget to ask themselves and their people about how they really create value. Even if they had a good idea of the answers to Palmisiano’s questions at one point in time, the world changes and they need to continue to ask — and answer — those four questions.

But there’s another key component to this type of framework: honesty. It’s tempting to view the world through the eyes of optimisim, but this gets in the way of good decision making. That’s why I often refer to a key lesson that I learned from Jack Welch during my days at GE:

Deal with the world as it is, not how you’d like it to be

The bottom line: Be honest: how will your company create value in the future?

Written by 

I am an experience management transformist, helping organizations improve business results by engaging the hearts and minds of their customers, employees, and partners. My "job" is Head of the Qualtrics XM Institute. The Institute is still being established, but our goal is to help organizations around the world thrive by mastering Experience Management (XM). As part of this focus, I examine strategy, culture, interaction design, customer service, branding and leadership practices. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. Prior to joining Qualtrics, I was managing partner of Temkin Group (leading CX research, advisory, and training firm), co-founder and chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org), and a VP at Forrester Research. I'm a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Check out my LinkedIn profile: www.linkedin.com/in/brucetemkin

One thought on “IBM’s Success Highlights Four Questions For All Execs”

  1. I’m not sure Jack Welch any longer represents a good role model of how to lead business. I can’t imagine Jack asking question 3, for instance, but could be entirely mistaken as I didn’t have your privilege of working for him.

    I think in 2012, executives MUST ask about the world they want; their accountability runs out over at least 10 years – Jack building nuclear reactors had to think even further in terms of dealing the with half-life decay of nuclear waste. More than ever before, executives must bring question 3 to the top of their agenda. How do their operations create value for the societies in which they operate?

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