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Why IBM’s CEO thinks in threes

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

If you run a company with 431,000 employees in 170 countries, you need to simplify your message. Virginia Rometty, IBM’s ninth CEO in its 104-year history, knows how to communicate in bite-size nuggets to drive home her point.

Rometty, 57, announced a bold plan to reinvent the tech giant. She reduced it to three pillars: big data, cloud computing and mobile and social technologies (which she labels as “engagement”).

In another example of shrinking her message to make it more memorable, she proclaimed three rules that govern IBM’s organizational culture:

  1. Don’t protect the past.
  2. Never be defined by your product.
  3. Always transform yourself.

Employees at all levels understand these rules. Liberated by the possibilities that come with taking risks and embracing change, IBM’s workforce can make nimbler, more daring decisions.

Soon after she became CEO in 2012, she met with her leadership team. Going around the room, she focused on each individual and shared three things he or she did well. (In some cases, she also mentioned something that needed improvement.)

The senior executives were startled at Rometty’s openness, and they got the hint: They were expected to apply their strengths to lift team performance.

In another early move, Rometty in­­vited all 17 of her senior vice presidents to join her in California’s Silicon Valley to meet with venture capitalists. Her team came away from those conversations with a heightened appreciation of the need to think like visionary entrepreneurs.

— Adapted from “IBM CEO Ginny Rometty gets past the Big Blues,” Michal Lev-Ram, www.fortune.com.

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