IBM: Pinpointing Inside Up-And-Comers

Nestled within its forested corporate campus in Armonk, N.Y., an easy stroll from the CEO's office, is IBM's stone-and-glass leadership training center. Big Blue is one of those companies -- along with General Electric Co. (GE ) and Procter & Gamble Co. (PG ) -- that are often cited as the gold standard for talent management. But if the Armonk school is a window on IBM's human-resources history, its future is a technology-powered staff-deployment tool the company is calling its Workforce Management Initiative. Think of the system as a sort of in-house version of, the online job site. Built on a database of 33,000 résumés, it lets managers search for employees with the precise skills they'll need for particular projects.

The Initiative, which applies what the company learned about logistics over its decades as a computer hardware manufacturer to its human assets, has already become much more efficient, saving IBM $500 million. It has also improved productivity. In February, for example, a health-care client needed a consultant with a clinical background. The system almost instantly targeted Lynn Yarbrough, a former registered nurse -- a search that would have taken more than a week in the old days.

But the Initiative's greatest impact may be its ability to help managers analyze what skills staffers possess and how those talents match up to the business outlook. The goal is to train people ahead of anticipated changes. This year IBM will spend $400 million of its $750 million employee-education budget on instructing people in the skills it thinks will be hot in the future.

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