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Leader in Action

IBM CEO, Ginni Rometty, Expresses Anger at Total Workforce

Virginia (“Ginni”) Rometty became the CEO of IBM Corporation after a 31-year distinguished career at the company that included key marketing positions. Although IBM remained an internationally respected business enterprise with annual sales of about $115 billion, the company was not performing as well as Rometty and Wall Street analysts had expected. When assigned the CEO position, Rometty was supposed to get IBM back on a smoother path of progress. Apparently fed up with the company’s lack of substantial progress, in April 2012, Rometty expressed anger toward employees in a five-minute video. All 434,000 employees were told by their leader to step up by working faster and more effectively. She wanted them to more proactively and productively engage customers, and stop letting big deals slip away to the competition. Rometty then focused some of the blame toward the sales staff, particularly for poor sales in the quarter preceding the video release. She said that sales representatives had failed to close on a number of software and hardware deals. Rometty expressed particular disappointment at a failed attempted software sale to a major retailer. She said, “We were too slow to understand the value and then engage on the approval and the sign-off process.” The result was that the sales staff did not get the job done. Six months later, Rometty decided to criticize the workforce again, this time in an e-mail. “Ours is a pay for performance culture and we must all be committed to take action to address our performance gaps,” she said. Rometty also noted that sales of hardware continued to perform poorly, particularly in growth market countries. Both in the video and the e-mail, Rometty did express optimism about the company’s ability to overcome its lackluster sales performance. She concluded that “Our fundamentals are strong and our future is in our own hands. I know we will confront this honestly and with urgency.” She added that in moments like this IBMers rise to the occasion, and go on the offense rather than retreating.

  1. What are your impressions of this message to the workforce? Is the message motivating or will it damage motivation? Is there anything that you would have changed in the message? If so, what and why?
  2. What tips can you take from the case study and the Reading to improve your conflict management communication skills?
  3. How does this case study add to or change your thoughts on leadership?
  4. What ideas from the case study will you add to your leadership profile?

Textbook ref: Dubrin, A. J. (2015). Leadership: Research findings, practice and skills. (8th ed.). Boston:

Cengage Learning.