IBM Executive Interview, Diane Gherson [Biz Leader Latte]

Diane Gherson, IBM Sr VP, Human Resources (Image credit: IBM)

“Seek out a variety of experiences that push your comfort zone. Prove to yourself that you are capable.” – Diane Gherson, IBM Sr VP, Human Resources

Leslieanne John, P-TECH student and IBM CAI intern, is conducting a series of executive interview posts exploring topics such as the technical skills necessary for business today and preparing students for the future.  She’ll also be looking into technical skills gaps and how technology integrates with education.  Her second interview was with Diane Gherson, IBM Senior Vice President, Human Resources.

The more I talk to people at IBM, the more I am realizing that data really is changing everything. As Diane Gherson, Senior Vice President of HR at IBM, explained to me, the Human Resources department used to be mainly a place for people with soft skills like collaboration and problem solving. But since the appearance of Big Data and Analytics, HR has also become a place for those with deep technical and analytical skills. I had the opportunity to interview Diane at her office at IBM headquarters. Here’s what she had to say about her career, how technology has changed talent management and her advice for young people:

Can you tell me about yourself and your role?

My responsibility is Human Resources at IBM. It’s a job that I took over in June, so I’ve been making mistakes every day, which is good, because I’m learning. I came into HR kind of late in my career. I had been working as a consultant leading a practice for one of the consulting firms. I came here to lead compensation and benefits, and thought that it would just be for a few years until I went back into consulting. But in the end I stayed, and I’ve been here for 12 years. I’ve had a really good run. I’ve really enjoyed the different experiences that IBM has offered me. IBM is great that way.

What does a typical day look like for you?

It’s usually pretty hectic. I have 12 to 14 meetings a day, sometimes including a formal meeting with my peers and Ginni. It’s pretty heavy on meetings, so I don’t typically get to read my e-mails until the work day is over.

How has talent management changed over time?

Talent Management is an area of passion for me and I have seen it evolve over the past few years. This area used to belong to the “softies”, but as analytics and big data entered the scene, the face of talent management changed. Now we can actually predict and project what the outcome of an idea would be. For example, if we had an idea for an increase in salary we can now say hey, here’s the mathematical and technological evidence to support this.

How has technology impacted recruitment, candidate expertise, and talent management?

Funny you should ask that. Eight years ago we had to text our candidates rather than sending them e-mails because we weren’t receiving any responses. That was when we realized that we were going to be dramatically affected by social. We began to realize that through Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter we were able to reach a larger number of candidates than ever before.

The other area that was affected dramatically was Predictive. Because of current technology we are able to predict candidate success more easily. For example, we trained managers to interview to test for certain capabilities and competencies. Then seven months later we went back and asked How much did this person meet the complete requirements for the job? We found that only about 70% did. We wanted to know why, so we studied the 30% that didn’t. We realized that across the board the 30% lacked one specific competency: gaining mutual trust. We then took this finding and realized that we needed to make this competency the first sieve that candidates have to go through before we send them on any interviews.

Is technology evolving too rapidly for industry to keep up?

It’s never too rapid – we love it. I mean it’s kind of been our life blood. We’re always looking for new technology. For other companies that may be true, but not IBM.

What is the biggest challenge IBM faces in terms of finding and retaining the best talent and how is that challenge being addressed?

There are a lot of very talented people out there, some of whom aren’t interested in working for a company. They would rather freelance, or join a start-up in order to feel independent. This is a big challenge because they’re very driven. They obviously have a lot of self-confidence and believe that they can make it on their own. These are exactly the kind of people we want. That’s probably our greatest challenge – going after them. We want them to be a part of IBM either as an employee or as an affiliate because they have such amazing talent. One way we’re addressing this is by creating kind of a mini start-up with Watson. For people with those big data and cognitive science skills, Watson is a place that feels a lot more like you’re going to a start-up.

What advice would you give to young people to help them be successful in the future?

Seek out a variety of experiences that push your comfort zone. For example, if you’re not strong at math, go to a school that has a rigorous math curriculum. Prove to yourself that you are capable. If people stereotype you, prove that you can do whatever they say that you can’t do.

IBM CAI intern Leslieanne John interviewing IBM Sr VP Diane Gherson


About Diane Gherson

As the Senior Vice President of IBM Human Resources, Diane Gherson is responsible for IBM’s global human resource practices, policies and operations, and reports to Ginni Rometty, chairman, president and chief executive officer.

About the IBM Center for Applied Insights

The IBM Center for Applied Insights introduces new ways of thinking, working and leading. Through evidence-based research, the Center arms leaders with pragmatic guidance and the case for change.


–Additional IBM Center for Applied Insights Contributors:  Caroline Day, Alison Fetherstonhaugh, and Julie Yamamoto

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